Storms and the resulting floods have been the most demanding issue for Government this week. Rail links to Cornwall were cut when the line through Dawlish was washed away.
Homes on the Somerset levels remain under water and strong winds took down power to thousands of other homes. The Prime Minister took over chairmanship of Cobra, the crisis committee, in the face of criticism that not enough is being done to help the flood victims in what is now six weeks of suffering. He announced an extra £100 million for repairs, urgent work in Somerset and maintenance. Central Government will reimburse Local Authorities 100% of eligible costs under the Bellwin scheme and the time period for claims has been extended to the end of March. Prince Charles visited Somerset and donated £50,000 to help farmers and businesses affected by the floods. The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who has been the principal butt of criticism, is to have surgery for a detached retina. Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, will take the lead whilst he is away.
The bad news for Londoners was not flooding but, for the three million tube users at least, a 48 hour strike by RMT and TSSA members. This was about Transport for London’s (TfL) plans to close ticket offices made redundant for most travellers by Oyster cards and related technology. The unions said the closures would adversely affect women, older and disabled people. The closures will mean cutting 935 jobs but TfL says there will be no compulsory redundancies and 200 will be needed to operate a 24 hour service at weekends.
Whilst most people recognise the importance of the right to strike in principle, a majority of women, older and disabled people are as able to use the technology as everyone else. Politically, the strike led to calls for the London Underground to be categorised as an essential service like the police and fire service so that strikes would be illegal. The Government is considering including in its election manifesto a proposal to ban any strike that does not have the support of 50% of a union’s members.
The de-selection of the MP for Thirsk and Malton caused problems for the Prime Minister as well as Anne McIntosh. Ed Miliband seized on it to bait him about the lack of women in his Government and parliamentary party. When he became party leader, Cameron vowed to increase the number of women MPs and draw at least a third of his Cabinet from them. On Wednesday there were no women on the Government front bench and Miliband teased that this ‘painted a thousand words’. More seriously, he noted that the gender pay gap had widened for the first time in five years. Cameron responded that 20% of Ministers and 24% of the Cabinet are women. He agreed that good Government and proper representation required more women. In that women equally bear the image of God and share responsibility for caring for the planet, that is right.