Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The ice age cometh

Not just the weather, but democracy, is in suspended animation, locked in a perpetual winter like the fictional Narnia, awaiting the arrival of an Aslan figure to break the spell of the wicked witch.

While a major catastrophe in Haiti dominates the world news (not yet blamed on global warming, but give it time), this country is going through an extraordinary, if low-grade crisis precipitated not by the weather but by our lack of preparedness for it.

Thus we have the unprecedented situation where a minister of the Crown is issuing fiats instructing local authorities to cut their grit usage by half, causing chaos and disruption on the roads and lethal conditions on the pavements.

With a partial thaw yesterday, freezing conditions returned overnight leaving surfaces coated with thin layers of ices, untreated by ministerial fiat – bringing busses to a halt locally and drastically limiting traffic (and economic activity).

Shops which should be bustling are empty and local trade is seriously down, refuse accumulates and local services have ground to a halt. Life for many is "on hold" until normal conditions return.

How we got to this parlous state is a long story, but at the top of the pyramid rests that international – or trans-national – organisation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which has been dominating major areas of policy which reach down and affect Mrs Miggins in Bradford high street, struggling to work or shopping for her family.

It is all very well now the Conservative local government spokesman Caroline Spelman seeking to capitalise on the government's discomfort, making strident claims about its "... admission of utter failure," charging that, "The lessons of last February's extreme weather have not been learnt."

In fact, the government did take note of the conditions last February and commissioned a study from the UK Roads Liaison Group, which issued a report in July last.

But, for all its vital importance, the report received scant attention from our over-paid parliamentarians. Such was the priority afforded that there was not even a ministerial statement on the report until 15 December, only a day before the Met Office issued its first severe weather warning and the snow started to fall.

Needless to say, there was no debate – our MPs had much more important things to think about and David Cameron was far too busy announcing his £20 billion plan for major retailers and energy firms to help people to "green" their homes. For him now to raise the issue at Prime Minister's Questions is leaving it a bit late.

Then, what used to be the basic fare of politics is no more. The agenda is no longer set by our local politicians, whether in town halls or Westminster, but by trans-national groups like the IPCC, accountable to no one but dominating policy. Our politicians no longer govern, but react to the agendas set by others, and then play silly party political games when things go wrong.

Thus it is that while Cameron was prattling about turning the nation "green", Mother Nature was turning it white. Aslan, where art thou?