News Debris washed up by flood water in Moorland, where 40 square miles of the Somerset Levels remain underwater

Officials were told 12 months ago that rivers posed a serious risk but failed to take any action

Leading Article: Public opinion is well ahead of press on private conduct

IT HAS been an open secret in Westminster for some time, but this should be put on the record in the public interest: Nick Brown is a rather good Minister of Agriculture. He has only been in the job only since July and has achieved three impossible things before Christmas. First, the farmers have stopped whingeing about a townie Government conspiring against them. Second, he said his predecessor's ban on beef on the bone was silly, and promised it would go. And third, he got EU vets to agree that the ban on British beef should be lifted, which it may be in January. Well done. End of story? Well, not quite.

The good gays and the bad gays

WHEREAS THE political hurricane that engulfed and destroyed the ministerial career of Ron Davies has lasted for two weeks (and may drag on for much longer), the admission by Nick Brown, yesterday, of his homosexuality will be nothing more than a one-day squall. The feeling of embarrassment that he acknowledged in his statement will, as I can testify from my own experience of being "outed" by the News of The World in 1994, have turned to relief as he sits down this morning to his ministerial duties, with his position in the Government strengthened.

Letter: Flaunting it

Sir: Suzanne Moore's thoughtful essay on Peter Mandelson (Comment, 30 October) hits the nail on the head. Many people who regard themselves as tolerant of gays resent us "flaunting" our sexuality. The attitude is, "I don't care, so please don't tell me," which may seem reasonable enough but is in fact unfair.

Architecture: Playing to an empty house

The new Royal Opera House opens in 1999. Over budget and overly- criticised, it is a state-of-the- art lyric theatre. But will it have a company to perform in it?

Davies Resignation: The outing of tolerance - except in Downing St

I WAS ONCE mugged in South London - does that throw into question my sexual orientation? Of course not. This is why the Ron Davies affair, despite the speedy spin-doctoring of Alastair Campbell, is so peculiar. The rapid response to Davies's strange admission he had done something foolish and had been robbed was a way of avoiding further accusations of sleaze. Yet by avoiding the juicy issue - whether this is extra-marital and possibly gay sex - tabloid imaginations have not been quieted.

Gays not asked to leave Cabinet

THE MYSTERY deepened last night over Ron Davies's reason for resigning after gay former Conservative MP Matthew Parris named two Cabinet ministers as homosexuals - Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Peter Mandelson - who had not been required to resign because of their sexuality.

MPs attack News At Ten abolition plan


Opera house chief accused of bigotry

SIR COLIN Southgate, chairman of the Royal Opera House, faces the accusation of being a male chauvinist, who does not consider women can serve on the board of the opera house.

Ministry logo 'madness'

THE INNER-MOST thoughts of civil servants in Chris Smith's Department of Culture, Media and Sport were exposed last night in an angst-ridden exchange of e-mails about the new logo being designed for "rebranding" their office.

Arts: Where there's a will

London's ballet and opera is in crisis. If only Chris Smith would check his in-tray.

Why don't you please, Gerry Robinson?

The ruthless head of the Arts Council charms even his enemies. So far. Interview by Rachel Sylvester

Rugby League: Smith plans to put the record right

The St Helens wing is eager to lose that 'forgotten man' tag.

Design: Take a look at Britain's new tourist traps

Will Millennium fever and lottery funding turn our country into a giant theme park?

Art: The theatre steals the show


Outlook: Post Office can't have it both ways

THE POST OFFICE expects the best of both worlds. It wants to keep its monopoly but it also wants the commercial freedom to trash what private sector opposition does exist. Unfortunately for the Post Office, commercial freedom rarely comes without commercial risk.
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