Now David Cameron announces that “money is no object” in curing the problems caused by the floods. I doubt that will convince this government of the simple laws of cause and effect.
Cut public-sector funding for the Environment Agency and flood controls, and there are floods that cause massive damage to homes and businesses.
Cut the number of doctors and nurses and waiting times increase and care suffers.
Cut the numbers of tax collectors and tax dodging increases.
Cut funding for local authorities and the social fabric begins to unravel – social care, libraries, leisure centres, highway maintenance.
Privatise utilities and the cost escalates so that profits can be paid to shareholders.
Public-sector workers are called in when emergencies happen, such as the Army providing security for the Olympics. They succeed without the need for shareholder payouts.
And still ministers say that the only way forward is to cut more public-sector funding and jobs. Except, of course, when floods affect the Tory shires. Then it is “no expense spared”.
One factor contributing to the flooding crisis which seems to have been forgotten is the excessive drainage carried out in the latter half of the past century. In the 1980s I worked in Dumfriesshire and virtually every bog, marsh and wetland in that county had been or was in the process of being drained. This was not just in the lowland arable areas but right up into the hills.
These wetland areas behaved like a giant sponge, soaking up large amounts of rain and releasing the water slowly over a longer period of time. Once these wetlands are drained the water runs off straight away into the river valleys below and is a major cause of flooding.
This policy of draining everywhere was pursued vigorously by the old Ministry of Agriculture, egged on by the National Farmers Union and the Internal Drainage Boards, and funded by large grants from the taxpayer.
These actions were replicated throughout the land. Drainage in the upland catchment areas of the River Severn is now seriously contributing to flooding in towns such as Bridgenorth, Worcester and Tewkesbury.
Here in the relative flatlands of East Anglia it has been evident for some years that we are alternating between periods of excessive rainfall and droughts lasting several months. There are farmers even in this region who believe that too much drainage has been carried out, with the fields unable to grow crops during the drought periods without expensive irrigation.
There is no easy solution to the flooding in the Somerset Levels, and dredging the rivers is not going to solve the problem on its own. If any long-term solution can be found it needs to include measures to increase the water-holding capacity of the higher ground above the Levels.
I wonder where all those new homes that Labour claims it will build, if elected, are going to be placed.
Many developers will not touch any land that is likely to flood, knowing that resales will prove difficult. Lenders are now much more cautious. Insurance will be harder to find. I predict a massive slowing down in the property market, and prices will drop, apart from existing homes on high ground well away from rivers and clifftops.
Richard F Grant
In the scorching summer of 1976 Jim Callaghan, the Prime Minister, appointed a minister for drought, and the heavens opened days later. David Cameron should now appoint a minister for floods and deliverance could be just around the corner.
Legalising drugs would save lives
Hooray for Ian Birrell (“At least someone’s talking sense on drugs”, 10 February) for raising again the vital (and I mean vital, given the deaths that the criminalisation of drugs causes) question of the legalisation and regulation of drugs.
I was a GP for 25 years in a market town in Wiltshire (population 7,000), where illegal drugs caused the death of four young patients of mine who would be alive today if their drug-taking had been seen as part of a public health problem rather than a criminal act. Extrapolate those figures to the population of the UK and we are talking about an epidemic.
But come on Ian, have the courage of your convictions. Nowhere in your article did you mention the word “heroin”. Was that because it’s an injectable and therefore in a class of its own and we should therefore keep it illegal? I hope not.
Dr Nick Maurice
Following the sad death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from, apparently, a heroin overdose, Kaleem Aftab claims that “the moral stigma of being seen to be on drugs has been hugely diminished” (“Hollywood’s drug addiction”, 4 February). Unfortunately nothing could be farther from the truth for those dependent on drugs, and their families.
In the first national survey of stigma towards those with drug dependency problems, the UK Drug Policy Commission found that 58 per cent of people think a lack of self-discipline and willpower is one of the main causes of drug dependence. But only 15 per cent think this about mental illness.
Only 5 per cent of people think that people with a mental illness “don’t deserve our sympathy”. But 22 per cent took this view towards those with drug dependence.
Regrettably, we also found that the attitudesof professionals coming into contact with those seeking to address their problems were often experienced as stigmatising by those on the receiving end.
Stigma acts as a barrier to people accessing treatment services and undermines their long-term recovery.
Former Chief Executive, UK Drug Policy Commission, Crowborough, East Sussex
Bacteria produce a work of art
There is nothing new about microbial art (report, 10 February). Alexander Fleming produced “germ paintings” using different pigmented bacteria a century ago. No less an art critic than Queen Mary told him that she did not see the point of them, when shown his portrait of a guardsman.
Yet it was the artist’s eye, the imaginative approach to both science and art, that made the bacteriologist Fleming receptive to a chance observation of a fungus contaminating one of his Petri dishes and inhibiting the growth of the bacteria in it. That observation, which led to the discovery of penicillin, owed much to the cross-fertilisation of art and science in Fleming’s mental make-up.
“Bacteriographs”, as they are called, in your picture of Stephen Fry, are not so trivial as they sound. They can lead to great breakthroughs. In the contemporary debate on education, we also need to break down walls between art and the humanities to produce well-rounded citizens. Art and science are not incompatible and can feed into each other.
Help for disabled on the Tube
Disabled people will be provided with more assistance from our staff than ever before under our proposals to improve customer service on the London Underground (“Why do you walk funny?”, 11 February).
We will bring staff out from behind inaccessible offices and plate glass screens at stations, and base more people than ever at ticket machines and gate lines and on platforms, where they will be visible and available to help. The “turn up and go” service we offer on the Tube will also be extended to our London Overground service.
In parallel, we will continue to make the Underground even more accessible through upgrades of major stations and a whole range of other action, including many more manual boarding ramps.
Managing Director, London Underground, London SW1
Dreams of avarice at Barclays
Antony Jenkins persists in the belief that vast bonuses are essential to acquiring top talent. Everyone outside this rapacious industry knows that these bankers would have luxurious lives even if their pay and bonuses were halved. He must realise that a recruitment policy geared to attracting staff whose primary motivation is greed will never foster the ethical business that he says is his goal.
Stockport, Greater Manchester
High drama, low body count
So Hitchcock never killed anybody? (“David Hare slams the mounting body count in TV dramas”, 12 February.) I must have dreamt that bit about a shower.