I’m curious as much as I’m outraged.
Exactly what was going on in the head of the chief of Britain’s Environment Agency, Sir Philip Dilley, who continued to work on his tan at his Barbados villa even while large tracts of northern England were being inundated after unprecedented winter rainfall?
Yes, he has now returned to Britain. “About bloody time”, many will be saying, this writer included. He has even deigned to visit the affected areas today. But presumably Sir Philip cut his holiday short only in response to warnings from his advisors that there might be a public backlash if he did not. If so – and there are few alternative explanations for his belated return – the question is why he had failed to work that out for himself, and much earlier. Earlier may be defined as the precise moment when he was first informed of the emerging disaster. If nothing else, he should have been mindful of the fact that his predecessor in the post was criticised for being absent from a similar event just a few years ago.
It has not helped his cause that, until then, Agency spokesmen were claiming that he was “at home with his family” – not an outright lie, I suppose, but because of its intention to mislead, something of a fib.
Were I in his position, my first instinct – and no doubt yours, or any other sensible and sensitive person – on hearing about the impact of the floods, would have been to rush home on the first available flight, if only to be seen doing something. Or at least to be showing a level of concern beyond a petulant, “Oh, very well, I suppose I could cut my holiday short if you really think that would be the right thing.”
That is not a real quote, of course, although I bet it is not wide of the mark. If it is unfair, then exactly what did he say when he received the first call from London, presumably as he sat by his pool with a good book, telling him that towns and cities back home were being submerged, bridges collapsing and houses evacuated?
I can only imagine. Actually, I can’t imagine.
Sir Philip may be a nice, caring man. He may even be – for all I know, given my unfamiliarity with his career – an effective leader of the Environment Agency. I can only presume that he is intelligent, though I now nurture doubts on that score.
He is, however, also patently a fool.
That much he proceeded to demonstrate as he spoke to the press on his return to London. “Everybody can’t be everywhere at the same time. I think we’ve been very effective and efficient in what we’ve been doing. There’s (sic) obviously some lessons to learn.”
The main lesson is to make sure that Sir Philip tenders his resignation; not now, but when the skies over northern England have cleared.
That may seem a little harsh, but no administration can afford to be saddled with such insensitive dolts. Nor can the poor souls now bailing out their kitchens.