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Monday, July 23, 2007 

Any movement that forgets about class is a bowel movement.

Isn't it interesting to measure the response to the floods currently affecting the West Midlands and south-western England to that which followed the similar deluges which left vast swathes of Yorkshire and northern England underwater at the beginning of the month? While the situation now is certainly more serious than it was in the north, with water and power supplies coming under strain, it's hard not to see that there are far more factors at work here than just the amount of water to drop from the sky.

While Polly Toynbee, in one of her more cogent pieces pointed out that if the floods had taken place in Chelsea the media would have been in full baying for blood mood, while it was only in half if that on the matter, she in fact didn't take her point to its logical conclusion. It's not the media with whom the full fault lies here; it's the political parties, and their own warped sense of priorities, which have been influenced by the power exercised especially by the tabloids which has made this latest breaking of the banks far more newsworthy.

At the very heart of why the north is far less important than south is that the voters there have been taken for granted under New Labour. From the beginning, New Labour was about the betrayal not just of everything that Labour formerly stood for, but also the very people who it was initially set up to represent. Of all the regions that suffered the most under the floods at the end of June beginning of July, nearly all of them have Labour MPs with invariably large majorities. The worst affected areas, Hull and Toll Bar near to Doncaster, are all Labour strongholds, Hull having the constituencies of both John Prescott and Alan Johnson, while Sheffield, similarly hard hit, counts David Blunkett amongst its representatives. The few exceptions to the rule, with Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems holding Sheffield Hallam, and Greg Mulholland grabbing Leeds North West are more down to the role of the student population and their opposition to the Iraq war and top-up tuition fees than any other real love for the party they belong to. Seeing as Labour still has a majority of 60 or so, and that so many former/current ministers are based in the area, you would have expected far more coverage/demands that something must be done than that which we actually had. While it was fun for the television reporters to put on their wellies and stand in knee-deep water, while hearing the stories those who had lost everything told, the newspapers lost interest relatively quickly, with the reporters following suit shortly afterwards.

What few, especially Labour MPs would dare to breathe was the real reason behind this was the class factor. While the region is by no means homogeneous, it's become regarded both by the media and by the political class as being populated by the kind of people who can be safely ignored. Once we called them the working class, but in a country in which the class distinctions have meant to have been broken down, referring to them as such now could almost be taken as offensive, and if that doesn't apply, then mentioning anything to do with class quickly brings the usual accusations of envy and usage of obsolete pejoratives. Hull might have been effectively devastated, with up to 10,000 homes needing urgent repairs and damages to schools running into the millions, but after all, wasn't Hull just a few years ago announced as the worst place to live in the UK by Channel 4, that doyen of the ultra-bourgeois property and lifestyle programmes? Who could possibly care about such proles who won't move outside of such a vulgar, brash, depressing place?

At the same time, the very fact that the area is dominated by Labour has meant, especially with Brown's ascension to the prime ministership, that few have dared to be openly critical themselves and potentially bring down a media storm on their new leader's head. With the Conservatives still decimated and likely to stay that way, there's been few effective voices other than local councillors visibly complaining about the lack of help which the area has received.

What a difference the fact that the water was this time deposited over the very heart of middle England has made! We're talking of the very area where New Labour myths were created: if the party could win over the support of the upper middle classes in the shires, the families living in such previous no-go Labour areas as Gloucester and Cheltenham, anything was possible. The emergence of Worcester woman, who couldn't give a fig for ideology or the outdated ways of the past but cared deeply about the public services and quality of life, was the very embodiment of everything that Blair's newly liberated party wanted to stand for. The unexpected victories in such cities and towns in 1997 spurred the leadership on to every greater flights of fancy. Such gains needed to be held at whatever cost, even if it was highly unlikely to be possible. Those voters up in the north could be counted upon even if Blair turned out to be Pol Pot in disguise. It was the Daily Mail/Telegraph heartlands that needed to be pampered with their every whim addressed. So it has turned out to be, with only Worcester and Gloucester still staying with Labour in 2005, but by God did they try.

How predictable that even now Labour knows a true "crisis" when it sees one. There wasn't an emergency up in Sheffield, Leeds, Doncaster and Hull, even though 7 people died in the chaos (it was left to the Environment Agency to describe it as "critical" and the FBU to say it was the biggest rescue operation they'd undertaken in peacetime); there most certainly is out in the jungle of Tewkesbury and Oxford, such a one that Brown himself needed to take a helicopter ride to see the swathes of hard-working, family loving, non-feckless countryside under metres of effluent coloured and flavoured water. This time too, the Tories had something to be concerned and outraged about, with John Redwood, that vulcan and symbol of disgusted Britain demanding to know why the government hadn't bombed the rain clouds into submission. The only plus is that David Cameron was so concerned about his deluged constituency that he flew straight off to Rwanda to deal with more pressing matters. Meanwhile, the BBC decamps Hugh Edwards and numerous other correspondents to the most hard hit areas, leaving sex kitten Natasha Kaplinsky to man the fort in White City, while the tabloids get ready to howl about their precious readers' destroyed homes and ruined lives.

This does of course ignore the fact that every single one of these people, regardless of their background, has lost something as a result of an act of God, however much the blame will now be thrown about. It's easy to forget however, when in the eyes both of a government and a media, some animals are still more equal than others.

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