Monday, 10 February 2014

Lighting the blue touch paper

I don’t know how many of Cornwall’s recently elected UKIP councillors share the opinions of their former colleague, David Silvester, but I suspect we might soon be about to find out.

Mr Silvester, 73, of Henley-on-Thames, was chucked out of the party last week for blaming the floods on gay weddings.  Mr Silvester believes the storms are God’s revenge for liberal and progressive legislation promoting homosexual equality.

Thursday sees a meeting of the council’s usually-ignored Health & Wellbeing Board, which has an agenda item recommending councillors to adopt a new policy offering “Best Practice Guidelines” on relationships and sexual health.

I’m sure you share my relief that council officials not only recognise that we are in urgent need of such guidelines, but that they have sought fit to print some of this 64-page document in Cornish.  For some reason the chapter on Female Genital Mutilation is missing from my copy, but it’s good to know that someone at County Hall is slaving away to develop policy on this vital local issue.

Porthleven councillor Andrew Wallis, who is the council’s Cabinet member responsible for children’s services, has written the introduction to the document, making it clear that it is aimed at any professionals whose work might impact on child development and health.

As a major employer of people like teachers and social workers, I suspect that the council has a statutory duty to have a policy framework like this – but this is an area where commonsense quite often goes the same way Mr Silvester’s grasp of reality, and officials sometimes need to smuggle such policy past the politicians without too many people noticing.

The document says “We have purposefully not included a section on sexual orientation” – but later adds:  “Young people will be supported as they explore their sexual orientation and develop their own sexual identity.  Young people have the right to engage in same sex relationships , and for these relationships to be valued and accepted in the same way as heterosexual relationships.”

As I sit glued to my television, watching the figure skating gentlemen at the Winter Olympics and trying to spot those who might pass the Putin Test, I decide that life is actually far too short to do what any other lazy hack would do – and phone the Usual Suspects for an easy-quote, and make this into a story.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

So how exactly did Cameron respond to Benyon when they talked about the risk of flooding?

Somewhere in Whitehall, in either a plain brown folder, or possibly an exchange of emails, there lurks a smoking gun.  I say this because some things are true, even though they may have been in the Daily Telegraph.  So when Richard Benyon, the Conservative MP for Newbury, says he warned about climate change and its impact on the British landscape (and agriculture), we should probably believe him.

Benyon told Downing Street, and other climate change deniers, about this uncomfortable truth sometime during the floods of 2012/13.  His reward: in October 2013, David Cameron sacked him as the junior minister responsible for flooding and as part of a shameless exercise in coalition horse-trading, gave his job to North Cornwall's Liberal Democrat MP, Dan Rogerson.

As Bridgwater today loses its railway line beneath the rising waters, and as its MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger slags off the Environment Agency's chairman as "a little git," consider what Benyon wrote on his own blog a few days ago:  "As groundwater levels in parts of West Berkshire exceed anything ever recorded, many residents find themselves in an awful situation. If your home is flooded, and, or sewage is flooding into your garden, it is human nature to feel angry; to hold someone to account. In my experience, this anger is often directed at the Environment Agency.

"Anyone who has worked with me on these issues knows that I am intolerant when such organisations fail.  I had a full and frank discussion with the then Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, following the devastating floods of 2007. Conversely, when they get things right I am full of praise. 

"The Chairman of the Environment Agency is the former Labour Cabinet Minister, Chris Smith, who has shown good leadership at a difficult time for any Government body. The majority of front line staff I have worked with are competent, professional people, prepared to work around the clock to protect homes and businesses from flooding. I am sure everyone recognises that they don’t always get it right, but I think they do a difficult job well."

I can't wait to see how Defra responds to my request for detailed disclosure of its exchanges with Downing Street and the Treasury.  The Independent, last week, is on the right lines.

Meanwhile, ponder the power of this landscape-changing wave crashing ashore at Seaton, near Looe:

Saturday, 8 February 2014

You couldn't make it up

An MP who most people have never heard of has resigned as a minister because his cleaner is an illegal immigrant (ie an immigrant with no permit to work in the UK.)  Mark Harper, the Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean, had been the government minister responsible for, er, immigration.

Inch by inch

From South Milton, Devon, a few days ago:

Hyperbolic weather warnings as Mediageddon hits Cornwall

It's just gone high tide, and so far the world has not ended.  The skies have darkened, and the wind is picking up, to be sure, but local news reports of imminent Weather Apocalypse appear to be premature.

I confess there is a degree of self-interest in rubbishing other forms of local media, but I do struggle to understand why anyone would want to deliberately exaggerate what most of us can see for ourselves perfectly well just by looking out of the window.

Local radio, in particular, appears determined to consign itself to the dustbin of irrelevance by so consistently getting it wrong, telling us to stock up on tinned food, to stay indoors and hide under the duvet etc.

It's so dangerous, apparently, er, that thousands of us are, er, flocking to the coast just to get a better view.  So at least the local tourism economy is somehow getting a lift. 

There's a group of youngsters who travel the world in search of just such weather.  The Red Bull Storm Chasers are looking for big waves at Hayle today.  I'm sure they won't be disappointed.  I'm equally certain that they quite sensibly couldn't give a stuff about what local media is alleging.

It seems that our enthusiasm for watching the weather is so great, that roads in and out of vulnerable places (such as Porthleven) are gridlocked due to the unusual volume of traffic.  A bit like on a hot, sunny day.  Any excuse for a jolly good traffic jam.  Let no-one suggest that our highly respected (and publicly-funded) local media bears any responsibility for fueling such hysteria.

Social media, reporting from the scene in almost real-time, gives us far more useful information.  My thanks to on-the-spot reporter, Cornwall councillor Andrew Wallis, for Tweeting this picture of Porthleven pier at this morning's high tide:

And from the north coast, an idea of the foaming seas off Bude: