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From: The Socialist issue 799, 19 February 2014: Floods Chaos: End cuts now!

Search site for keywords: Flooding - Cuts - Government - Water - Labour - Environment - Climate change

Editorial from the Socialist issue 799

Floods chaos: End cuts now!

photo Chris Moore

photo Chris Moore

The misery continues. As we go to press there are still 118 flood warnings and 166 flood alerts. Four people have died.

Thousands of houses and properties are under water. Sinkholes also pose a threat. And the Environment Agency (EA) has highlighted the problem of ground water, meaning saturation can prolong flooding even when the rain has eased.

With the flood waters that are devastating lives across the country come revelations about the reality of Con-Dem Britain.

Firstly and unquestionably the floods have shown again that the Coalition spending cuts are a disaster.

This is not news to the millions of people whose lives have been devastated by job cuts, benefit cuts, or service cuts.

The GMB union explained that the current flooding crisis is due to "successive years of central government cuts that have trimmed maintenance budgets and staff levels to unsustainable levels."

Since the government came to power the EA capital budget has been cut by a whopping 28%.

On top of the job cuts at the EA, the Guardian has revealed that "flood-stricken communities, including the Somerset Levels, have been left without planned defences following government funding cuts".

A Panorama programme reported that a 256 million scheme to protect towns flooded by the Thames may never be built. See pages 6 and 7 for more on the impact of spending cuts.

Attempting to dodge some of the odium coming his way Prime Minister David Cameron let the cat out of the bag.

Rather than the usual insistence on 'difficult decisions' and 'belt-tightening', he said: "Money is no object in this relief effort, whatever money is needed for it will be spent."

Despite the "no blank cheque" backtracking attempts, Cameron's "we are a wealthy country" claim reveals that when the pressure on government is urgent enough, particularly when it could threaten Tory votes, the money can be found. So why not for the bedroom tax? Why not for investment in jobs for young people?

Trade union and anti-cuts meetings must discuss how Cameron and all the cuts-supporting parties can be made to feel people's anger.

Cameron's comments drive home what we already knew - that 'money is no object' for certain items. Look at the enthusiasm there is for spending 2.5 billion on F-35 fighter jets and the annual cuts to corporation tax, benefiting the super-rich bosses in the arms industry, banks and big business.

The PCS union estimates that 120 billion is lost every year through tax evasion and avoidance mainly by the same super-rich elite.

A reported 98 of the top 100 companies on the FTSE stock exchange, firms such as Tesco and Barclays, are using tax havens.

If the unpaid taxes of the super-rich and big corporations were collected the deficit could be wiped out.

That money, and what could come from the nationalisation of the banking industry and other measures, could reverse the cuts and fund quality flood defences.

The best way to ensure 'money is no object' when it comes to our jobs, pay, pensions, benefits and services is for our collective pressure to be asserted on the Coalition - most effectively through the calling of a 24-hour general strike.

Linked to this must be the fight for no cuts and socialist change so society is democratically organised and planned around all our needs, including the long-term safe-guarding of the environment.

Floods put Tories on the rocks

The floods are showing that people are angry. A ComRes poll found that nearly three-quarters of people said the Coalition didn't appear to be in control of the situation.

Rising water has exposed the fury against a pampered elite in Westminster that continues to simmer below the surface.

A BBC Question Time audience in Scunthorpe raged against a millionaires' government that had only sprang into action when the floods hit the wealthy shires.

In the South East working class communities booed the Westminster 'wallies in wellies' for neglecting them.

The floods have given the lie to the Con-Dems constant claim that the private sector does it better and that shrinking government is the way forward.

As Jonathon Freedland put it in the Guardian: "Small-government ideology may fly in the think-tank seminar room, but when water's gushing through your letterbox, few people call for the Downing Street nudge unit." And that will probably, unusually, include some of the owners of riverside mansions.

Properly funded public services are vital for the running of society. Socialists also say they should be democratically run to meet the needs of all.

Richard Ashley, Professor of Urban Water at the University of Sheffield, said the findings of his report on flooding risk for the Labour government in 2004 have been ignored.

He correctly wrote in the Independent that "the situation in England is a systemic failure to take a longer-term and strategic approach to environmental hazards".

Ashley highlighted how pro-capitalist governments kowtow to the demands of big business to the detriment of the rest of us. "Fierce lobbying" by the building corporations delayed "the commencement of Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act, which sets out how sustainable drainage systems were to be used and maintained in all new developments." Last year local councils allowed almost 90 planning developments to proceed in areas at such risk of flooding that the EA formally opposed them, according to the Independent on Sunday.

Of course the short-sightedness is not helped by the climate change scepticism that has run deep in what was promised to be the 'greenest government ever'.

Environment minister and professed sceptic Owen Patterson has cut the number of climate change advisers in the department from 38 to six and halved the funding for research into climate change.

Both Tory and Ukip groups in the European Parliament abstained on a 2012 motion on the implementation of EU water legislation.

It was designed to tackle the "rise in the frequency and intensity of floods" with "adaptation and mitigation policies".

The vote emphasised "the importance of risk prevention, mitigation and response strategies to prevent water-related extreme phenomena".

Con-Dem seats under threat

But many people are drawing the opposite conclusion. A YouGov survey found that the number of people who think that the 'environment' is the biggest cause of concern has jumped from 6% to 23% in a month.

There are also predictions that the floods could further erode the Tories' electoral chances - after all many of the areas hit have been Tory-voting.

According to the Times, of the 40 most marginal seats held by the Tories, 15 have been affected by the weather. Lib Dem seats are similarly affected.

Labour leader Ed Miliband asked if Cameron was "reconsidering the redundancies" in the EA. Does this signify an anti-cuts stance? No.

Labour remains committed to Tory spending plans. Labour-led councils are busy voting through millions of pounds of more cuts.

And, indicating Labour's commitment to capitalism, a European election candidate has even advised Miliband to "hug a banker" in the week big-bonus Barclays announces thousands of job cuts. Labour offers no alternative to the cuts Coalition.

The floods expose the blind, chaotic nature of the capitalist system and its inability to deal with crisis.

As we wrote of the hundreds of thousands of victims of Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina, the suffering of the flood victims "is a monument to a blighted system".

In 2006 we contrasted "the lack of preparation, the inaction, inefficiency and corruption" in the US authorities to the "actions of Cuba, where the hurricanes' effects were mitigated through the voluntary movement of a million people before the hurricane struck.

"One system is unplanned and based on the interests of the propertied classes. The other, although unfortunately not a democratic workers' state, still has the outline of a planned economy, which makes it possible to lessen the impact of natural disasters."

This is the key revelation of the floods - an unplanned system run in the interests of the 1% will lead to misery for the mass of the population.

Although future weather cannot be exactly predicted, adequate investment in research, public services, defences and other measures can mean weather doesn't have to cause such suffering.

But that requires a system with the key sectors of the economy publicly owned and planned under democratic workers' control and management - a socialist system.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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