Nigel Fletcher - Dale & Co.
Monday, November 23, 2009
The floods in Cumbria have been absolutely dreadful, with the tragic loss of policeman Bill Barker, and millions of pounds of damage. Down here in London it may all seem a little remote , but should act as another warning to us. Just imagine the devastation and loss of life if a flood of that scale were to hit the Capital.
In fact, you don't need to imagine it - there is a film which dramatises just such an eventuality. 2007's 'Flood' was not exactly a box office hit, and suffers from some seriously dodgy acting and dramatic licence, but is worth seeking out. It stars Robert Carlyle and David Suchet, and concerns the nightmare flooding scenario for London - a storm surge in the North Sea moving into the Thames Estuary and coinciding with a spring tide. This would overwhelm the Thames Barrier and cause massive flooding across a wide area.
The special effects in the film are impressive (see picture above of Greenwich Park in the film), and unlike many disaster movies the basic premise is perfectly possible, and a real threat. It is adapted from a novel by Richard Doyle, who has a website explaining the facts behind it, which I recommend looking at.
In Greenwich I was a member of a Council Scrutiny Review committee a couple of years ago which looked at our emergency planning arrangements. Some of the evidence we looked at was sobering - arrangements for field hospitals, mortuaries and so on - and some of it slightly alarming. The truth is that we can never be 100% prepared for every eventuality, but we can do our best to put the right systems in place. I recall we uncovered a potential flaw in the mechanism for mobilising Council staff in an emergency, which I trust has now been addressed.
However we simply didn't have the time or resources to conduct a fundamental review of all areas of preparedness, and I really think it's something which local authorities and the GLA (which has responsibility through the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority) should give a higher priority. Given our position on the Thames, and with the Barrier based here, the flooding nightmare is one which we should take particularly seriously.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The State Opening of Parliament is always a wonderful day of pageantry, with swords, robes, silly hats and the fantastic procession bringing the Queen to the Palace of Westminster to play out the symbolism of our Parliamentary system.
But as Her Majesty rode back to Buckingham Palace today across Horseguards' Parade (shown in my picture above), she might be forgiven for wondering if it had been worth her turning up at all. It's not just that the speech itself was so short - a record of just six minutes - but that the legislative programme unveiled is so dismal.
The collection of Bills outlined seems designed purely to capture headlines, rather than as a coherent programme for government. Most of them read like press releases, with bold pledges which wave a magic wand in the direction of the nation's problems. Take these extracts, for example:
- "Legislation will be brought forward to halve the deficit"
- "My Government will continue to enshrine in law its commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020"
- "My Government will bring forward legislation to protect communities by ensuring that parents take responsibility for their children's antisocial behaviour"
How on earth do you legislate to halve the national debt? It it were that simple, many Chancellors of the Exchequer would have had a rather easier time of it in the past. How can a law abolish child poverty, when all Labour's past efforts have failed to do it? And how can a decree from Parliament change deep-rooted and complex social problems tied up with bad parenting? They simply cannot. There is also an absurd Schools Bill (yes, another one) containing a jumble of half-baked initiatives, none of which appears actually to need new legislation.Either the Prime Minister still believes that passing a law is the same thing as delivering a policy, in which case he has learnt nothing from his experience in government; or he expects us to believe it is the same thing, in which case he is - to use David Cameron's phrase - taking us all for fools.
Against this backdrop it is not surprising that the Speech also contained the proposal that:
"Legislation will be brought forward to protect communities from flooding"
Yes, Labour really are trying to hold back the tide.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Today marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Conservative Research Department (CRD) by Neville Chamberlain in 1929. This curious old institution has existed within the Party in various forms, despite the changing whims of successive Leaders, and the changing demands of political life. The Department tends to inspire huge loyalty and affection from its members, who themselves have always had a reputation as an eclectic and somewhat idiosyncratic collection of individuals.
As a proud CRD alumnus, having served there from 2004 until 2008, I was delighted to be invited to a star-studded gathering of current and past members -and some other friendly VIPs- at the Carlton Club last night. It was a particular pleasure to have as our guest of honour one David Cameron, who having served from 1988-92 has the distinction of being the first former CRD desk officer to become Leader of the Party (Ted Heath was turned down for a job!).
I loved my time in the CRD, and am pleased to feel I will always be a small part of its illustrious history. Alistair Cooke, a legendary former Deputy Director who is now the Party's official historian, has written a short article on the CRD over on the Blue Blog, and has edited a book celebrating the Department's 80 years (buy it here) which I highly recommend, and not only because I appear in one of the group photos featured from 2006! Here's to another 80 years....
Monday, November 09, 2009
It seems now almost literally unbelievable that in our recent history an armed frontier divided a major European City marking a global contest between democracy and communism. Many people have offered their reflections today, far more eloquently than I can manage. David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher have both given their thoughts, but I give the last word to German Chanceller Merkel, herself from East Germany:
'Today marks a truly happy moment of German and European history. Twenty years ago the door to freedom opened up and a seemingly invincible wall that divided a people and an entire continent suddenly became permeable. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. '
Sunday, November 08, 2009
I'm currently away staying with friends in Deal in Kent, so observed the Remembrance Sunday service at the local war memorial here. This year I think there's an added poignancy with the last of this country's First World War veterans having passed away, and troops still being killed and injured in Afghanistan. Never has it been more important for us to pause and reflect on their sacrifice.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Eltham residents had something of an exclusive preview of the current debate on Europe when Shadow Europe Minister Mark Francois came to address a public meeting at St Luke's Church Hall (just a few doors down from my flat, conveniently!).
Mark began by apologising for the fact he couldn't at that time reveal what the Party's plans were should the Lisbon Treaty be ratified - something which David Cameron has now set out in detail with his speech yesterday. However, the debate was actually much wider than the issue of Lisbon, and a wide range of people - not just Conservative supporters - were able to have their say on the question of the UK's relationship with the EU. Mark gave very frank answers, and the event became a proper town hall-style debate.
The prevailing view was that we have given up too much power to the EU, without being asked about it. That is a point which David Cameron's pledge for a legal "Referendum lock" yesterday directly addressed. Despite Labour's attempts to turn the tables, the fact remains that it was Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who promised a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, then broke their word.
If we had a Conservative Government, Lisbon would not have become law without the British People's consent. Now that it has become law, we have to ensure the British people can never be treated with such contempt again, as well as negotiating to return key powers from Brussels to Westminster. That is the sensible and bold approach which David Cameron has now laid out, and I hope that is a message which resonates with those Eltham residents who spoke up last week.
I've just been over at Westminster Abbey where the Duke of Edinburgh opened the British Legion field of Remembrance. A very moving and simple service, made more poignant by the dreadful loss of life in Afghanistan, particularly yesterday's killings by an Afghan police trainee. On leaving, heavy traffic stopped the Duke's car being able the get to the exit to meet him. A bus blocked the way, and HRH joked 'are we getting on that?'. Thankfully the hold-up only lasted a minute or so, and he was able to depart in the Royal limo.