Janet Street-Porter: Troubled water needs a 'hands-on' approach

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If Mr Blair would like to divert attention from the rumours and counter-rumours swirling around his every move, I suggest that he takes a "hands-on" approach to Britain's drought before Mr Cameron leaps in and exploits the current muddle.

What better way to win back popularity points, tick all the right environmental boxes, and lead his disenchanted electorate? He should book TV time to announce he's taken the critical role of Water Tsar, coordinating responses to what is fast becoming a national disaster.

The water restrictions imposed this week sound like something only Basil Fawlty could have devised. Daffodils have barely bloomed, Easter eggs are still in their wrappers, and already 13 million people living in the most densely populated area of the country are told they can't use hosepipes to water their gardens or wash their cars. But sprinklers can operate at golf courses and it's business as usual down at the local car wash. Fountains can spout in parks, and should there be a riot by disgruntled allotment holders, there's no problem with deploying a water cannon or two.

Invoking the 1991 Water Resources Act to deal with empty reservoirs was a big mistake. Another was not penalising water companies severely enough for inefficiency - 790 million gallons just dribble away each and every day. With privatisation, water became a business just like canning beans or making car engines. Targets had to be met and shareholders given returns on their investment. Corners have been cut, staff laid off and maintenance work has deteriorated.

Of course, being plucky Brits, we'll get through the summer using our famous ingenuity. Hanging baskets will sprout cacti and sales of designer plant pots will soar.

Each person in Britain uses 150 litres of water a day - a new level of 100 litres should be imposed with double charging over that amount. What an opportunity for Mr Blair to bite the bullet and show us how his family are doing their bit by taking showers instead of baths, putting bricks in every loo at Downing Street and Chequers for a minimal flush, and letting the family people carrier forego its daily wash. Given that the current restrictions are the beginning of a long process, which could end with rationing and tankers delivering water to each street, would it not have been better to have banned non-essential uses of water nationally from the start of this month? That way, one set of gardeners or allotment holders are not unfairly penalised because the businessmen who own their local water have failed to plan for drought.

To use a phrase Mr Blair is fond of, the only solution must be transparent and consistent. And it would be a grand gesture if all the directors of the water companies publicly stated how much less water they had used each week instead of threatening us with fines if we water our lawn with a hosepipe.

Compulsory water meters are the only answer. Pricing water needn't hurt the poor - they can easily be identified and given a free quota for their essential needs. Hotels could carry a surcharge for baths. Every new bath sold should carry a water tax. There are plenty of ingenious ways to discourage water wastage.

Finally, Mr Prescott can forget grandiose schemes to build millions of new homes in the land-rich but water-poor Thames gateway - unless he is investing in treatment plants that turn sewage into stuff we'll want to brew up with.

Cameron can learn from Morrissey

Insulting people is a dangerous occupation. Ken Livingstone lurches from one personal jibe to the next, and now Mr Cameron is in the doghouse. The UK Independence Party is threatening to issue a libel writ after he described them as, "fruitcakes and loonies - and closet racists mostly".

Shock, horror: old Etonian toff talks like the man or woman in the street - but to the motley bunch of arrivistes in UKIP this malicious, damaging untruth requires a full apology in a court of law! Meanwhile, Philip Meeson, whose budget Jet2.com airline was grounded this week when striking students sat on the runway at Chambery, is in equally deep water. His website declared, "Jet2.com ... calls for lazy frogs to get back to work!". Distressed French air traffic controllers deemed these comments "not acceptable".

Perhaps Mr Cameron should take lessons in insults from the singer Morrissey and Silvio Berlusconi. They are both masters of the slag-off, focusing on an unlovely bit of the male physique. Mr B described anyone voting against him as coglioni (meaning testicles or someone with few brain cells). And Morrissey, who lives in Rome, told an interviewer: "I'd rather eat my own testicles than reform the Smiths."

* Memoirs are big business. Katie Price has told her life story twice, and Gazza is working on volume two of his battle with booze, his wife, the shrink, and of course himself. This autumn, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Tommy Docherty and even Nigel Havers will be fighting for shelf space. But I have a sinking feeling about David Blunkett's forthcoming revelations, The Blunkett Tapes.

Without any "love interest", Blunkett's memoirs will be trounced by Gordon Brown's literary offering. In spite of the unsexy title Speeches 1997-2006 (a snip at £30), this one will be a huge hit as the canny Scot has persuaded J K Rowling to write an introduction. Part two of my memoirs is out in September - perhaps Ian Rankin will do the same for me?

Comments