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Katherine Shonfield

The sight of John Prescott, up to his waist in the questionable effluent that passes for rainwater in this country, is the sole glad tiding that emerges from the floods of the past weeks. But amid the anxieties there is plenty of scope for gaping disbelief. On each news bulletin, as night follows day, concern for the beleaguered motorist follows concern for the stranded householder. Forget abstract mutterings. No-one in authority is prepared to state the bald fact of the case: 'You are being flooded because you insatiably burn petrol.' It is as if we exist in parallel universes divided for ever by the one split second which separates news items.

An abstract 'greed' is tutted at from on high - as per the social psychologist quoted in the Guardian who has worked out that panic buying of petrol shows a 'rather unpleasant' aspect of human beings, and portentously remarks 'there was a time when there was a far greater social responsibility such as when there was some external threat'.

Balderdash. This veiled reference to the mythic social solidarity of World War II forgets the accompanying immense governmental propaganda campaign - let alone substantial powers of coercion. This campaign, by dint of guilttripping, interminable repetition and glamorizing the warm glow of belonging, forced the population to understand that their isolated activities were integral to a greater whole. One problem is that government has refused to identify global warming as just such an 'external threat'. The other is the legacy of Thatcherism: to address with confidence society's manifestly common interests continues to frighten the life out of them.

The government has proved this century's golden rule: what you mean is the opposite to what you say. For joined-up thinking read isolated knee-jerk reaction.

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