Housing Minister Yvette Cooper is pressing ahead with plans to build thousands more houses on flood-plains. The proposals came out in a week when half the south of England was under water. The government is not entirely to blame for all the damage, but it cannot be denied that thousands of homes were ruined either because they were recently built on flood plains or because their neighbours’ houses now stood on land which used to absorb rainwater.
Cooper’s demand that critics should not “play politics” over this is the politician’s version of shouting “pax”, as children used to if they needed a breather during outdoor games in the playground. (note for those educated under Blair: “pax” is Latin for “peace”; Latin was the language of the Romans; Romans came from Rome, in Italy; Italy is that long thin country in southern Europe; Europe is the large land mass where our rulers live, south of England; a “playground” is the space which used to be provided outside schools, now called a “housing estate”; “outdoor games” used to be allowed before Health & Safety banned them).
To revert to Cooper and “playing politics”. A politician who knows she is on weak ground (or in this case very wet ground) and who hopes to slide away unnoticed, shouts “playing politics” in the hope that opponents will back off. The cry is usually accompanied by the suggestion that critics “don’t care about the poor” or some similar guff which is irrelevant to the central point.
The fact is that it is nonsense to build more houses in flood plains just as it is nonsense to build more houses in the south of England at all. A decade was wasted under Two Planks Prescott, a decade in which a government which worked at policy instead of playing at politics could have master-minded a massive refocusing on building communities in the north – not just houses, but factories and businesses, with drains and trains and all the other components of infrastructure which a community needs, and offering real incentives to people to move there.
Instead we had “bulldoze the north, concrete the south” under a minister too thick to understand what “infrastructure” or “incentive” meant, too bent on punishing the south for despising the north (as he saw it), too busy screwing the staff to care about anything much really. Where we might have had a ten-year plan now coming on-stream, we have a panic-induced political need to get houses built before the next election. If the easy space to build lies on a flood-plain, well that’s hard on someone, one day, but it won’t be Yvette Cooper.
Yvette Cooper is not stupid like Prescott, but she is wholly political and well alert to the political need to build houses. She wants to be something better than Housing Minister next time around, and to have a full place in the Cabinet like her husband. For her to cry “don’t play politics” when her party’s back is to the wall is as hypocritical – well, as hypocritical as everything else about New Labour.