Leading Article: No shortage of wet excuses

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THE economics of the water industry have tapped a rare, rich and almost unanimous stream of angry upset. Brave is the man who stands in its way with only reason, facts and common sense as a mackintosh. Step forward, John Gummer, former Chairman of the Conservative Party, former Anglican, present Secretary of State for the Environment, and a man for whom Jonathan Aitken, the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, once predicted a brilliant future. Mr Gummer it was who, last week on BBC Radio, sought to return this storm to its teacup with a finely judged piece of perspective: water, he said, was more expensive in France.

This is interesting thinking. No doubt on his visits to Peter Lilley's holiday home in Normandy, Mr Gummer has been struck by the similarities in terrain and climate. Perhaps he has sat inside playing Scrabble while rain specked the Lilley fenetres. A sophisticated man, he will no doubt also have travelled further south. Perhaps he has seen that fine film Jean de Florette and its equally affecting sequel, Manon des Sources. Not much water there, John. Plus chaud, too. And a clue, possibly, as to why water might be more expensive in France.

Never mind. We see a big future for what will surely come to be known as the Gummer Gambit, or, more colloquially, as gummering. VAT on fuel? Do you know how much they pay to keep warm in Greenland? Lighting bills? You should try it in Trondheim in winter, mate. Run-down bus services? Look at Venice. Inner-city decay? Been to Beirut lately? GDP? Listen, times are not good in Nagorny Karabakh, either. MPs fielding pounds 1,000 for a question? They'd laugh in your face in Rome. In that phrase made famous by Sir Robin Day: chuck it, Mr Gummer.

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