Friday 20th July
in Tewkesbury started pretty normally, other than the fairly consistent
and heavy rain which was hammering away outside my office window. By
5pm, lying water in the nearby fields was foretelling a new story for
Gloucestershire which didn’t really hit home until I left work. Facing
a growing traffic jam into the Town, I decided to use the lanes. Fortunately
for me, I was driving my 4×4 pick up and when I found myself in near
18 inches of water, I was promptly able to retrace my steps and enjoy
the hour long queue to get home on what is normally a three minute journey.
The real scale of what had
happened during a day of incessant rain didn’t become clear until
I left to assist my staff with newspaper distribution at 6.30 the following
day; Tewkesbury was cut off by as much as a 6ft moat in some places
and the devastation that I witnessed around the whole area was akin
to a scene from the recent Tom Cruise remake of War of The Worlds –
the only aliens in this picture being the many people who had been travelling
the M5 and had been stranded in the area overnight.
We couldn’t quite believe
what we were seeing and I stood for a good while, quietly located in
the middle of what is normally a bustling A-road leading to the
centre of the Town, observing Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue launching
a speed boat from the white line of a light controlled road junction.
That morning, I became aware
of the probable loss of the first of three local lives as a result of
the floods and their aftermath and we all quietly hoped that there will
be no more.
Tewkesbury often floods and
at this point, many thought it would just be a few days and the whole
thing would be behind us. What I didn’t expect the following morning
was the news that the water supply had been effected and that we needed
to get some bottled water as quickly as possible. I’m not sure that
anyone really knew what to make of the whole experience at this point.
At the local pub, many families had chosen to have an evening out as
a way of enjoying the enforced holiday which had come about by the lack
of immediate access to the road network.
This went into Monday, and
it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that I had my first call from
one of my Ward residents who didn’t know what to do about getting
water. I just told them I would call them back and called the Council
Offices to find out what we had. The response was along the lines of
‘We have water here, but no transport at the moment’. So, I jumped
into my pick-up and off I went. 8 days later, the addition of a trailer
and Cllr Tugwell’s water bottle distribution operation is now a part
of daily life!!!
During the past week, the events
which have taken place have brought out the absolute best in some and
the horrifying worst in others. Politicians, I count amongst this number
(although I am pleased to say that none have as yet been caught urinating
into water bowsers…)
Gordon Brown visited twice
in the earlier part of last week and scored highly with locals because
of his apparent interest and reinforcement of this by coming back so
soon. Personally, I stood a few feet from him at the Borough Council
Offices and found his apparent rudeness towards anybody not in view
of a camera to be breathtaking. Worst still was the by now almost permanent
attendance in any media opportunity of Gloucester’s Labour MP Parmjit
Dhanda. I struggled to see the relevance of his involvement in Tewkesbury
Town itself and it came as little surprise when stories began to emerge,
suggesting that local Labour politicians in Gloucester had attempted
to hijack the then embryonic Gloucestershire Flood Relief Fund for their
DC finally showed up, rather
low key on Saturday morning. Like a number of my fellow Conservative
Members, I didn’t meet him because I was out delivering water. The
subsequent local press has been good and the difference between his
approach and that of the PM was that he showed a clear and practical
interest in the experiences of people in the area – you know, real life!
Most people here felt that
he should have appeared earlier and I would not be honest in saying
anything other than I think the Rwanda trip should have been cancelled.
However, there is a lesson to be learned here and that is that making
politics practical rather than merely idealistic is a clear and defining
step and most definitely a territory which Labour finds difficult walking
This aside, I have worked hard
to keep the politics out of the work I have been doing in the past week
and I have been touched by the support which has come from many people
and some with whom I would guarantee I would be ‘fighting’ under
normal circumstances. Somebody called into Five Live last week and nominated
me as a kind of hero; judging by one of the CH blogs that day, I know
that some of you heard it!
One thing that you can all
be happy with is that Conservatives have been out there and helping
to ‘make it happen’ where help is needed most. Many lessons will
be learned from the events in Gloucestershire and the surrounding areas,
not all of them obvious.
I hope that many will now realise
that one of the greatest strengths that we have for the future is in
making a return to a type of political landscape where Conservative
politicians are seen to ‘get their hands dirty’ at a time when they
are needed by the electorate. Whatever anybody says about timing, people
want their elected representatives to be there for them when they are
needed and I speak from very recent experience when I say that they
appreciate it too.
A lot of people here have had
and are continuing to have a difficult time, whether that is just because
of a reliance on bowsers and bottled water, or because they have lost
many possessions in a flooded home. Tewkesbury Borough Council and Gloucester
City Council have established the Gloucestershire Flood Relief Fund
with the principle support of Gloucestershire Media and by the weekend,
funds raised were already at the £250,000.00 mark.
The Local Authorities and Emergency
Services have already received what I would consider to be untimely
and inappropriate criticism. Personally, I would like to congratulate
them on a fantastic job, in circumstances which it would have been very
difficult to foresee.