I find this an intensely irritating argument:
Government reaction to the floods in Somerset brings into sharp focus a central conundrum for any rightwing, neoliberal administration. It is the battle of populism versus ideology. An emergency on this scale requires them to behave, quite simply, like socialists. It requires a well co-ordinated, firm, top-down response, and the spending of tax revenue to alleviate misery, on the strict basis of need rather than worthiness.
The irritation comes from the British Left's standard response to anything, which is that whatever it is must be organised centrally.
I think we're all prepared to agree that managing the drainage boards of an area that is below the high tide line is something that is going to have to be done communally. But why on earth must it be done centrally? Under the control of a man whose only formative working experience was as a housing charity worker? What special skills does he bring to the questions of how or not parts of Somerset should be drained? Or, if we're honest, the 11,000 or so people who work for this centralised organisation?
For there is indeed another method of communal action. Local and voluntary action, even local and forced action. Just thinking off the top of my head the people who live in the areas likely to flood might band together (and use the law to make sure there's no free riders) and create, ooooh, I dunno, drainage boards or summat. They all pay in a bit each year, call them just to be ambitious drainage rates, and then those boards can hire a few people to dredge the rivers, man the pumping stations and all that. We might also expect the locals to clear the ditches on their own land, those boards being responsible only for the larger efforts necessary.
And now to the big reveal: this was of course the way that the Somerset Levels were managed for centuries since their first draining and it's only since the service was centralised under the Environment Agency that it's been a complete cock up.
As I say I find this an intensely irritating argument that the British Left keep coming back to again and again. That anything that must be done collectively must also be done centrally, in a "top-down manner". When in fact a very large number of things that do indeed need to be done collectively are better done on a local basis, more bottom up than top down.
You know, by people who might actually know what they're doing? With the added attraction that since they actually live in hte affected areas they might also care about what gets done?