THE BLOG

The Floods and the Tory Heartlands; Irony, Stereotypes and the Hidden Plight of the Working Poor

13/02/2014 09:41 GMT | Updated 14/04/2014 10:59 BST

There are times in life when circumstance throws certain stereotypes at you. Take the recent tube strike for example. Circumstance, aided by jaded and lazy tabloid hacks, threw at us the threadbare stereotype of London Underground staff represented by RMT and TSSA "holding London to ransom". Had the press looked past those stereotypes, they would have seen the recent dispute was more to do with safeguarding the accessibility and safety of the underground network, and repelling the threat of cynical job cuts, rather than simply being the latest arm wrestle between the perpetual hate figure of the right, Bob Crow, and the vacuous mayor of our capital city.

Similarly, the floods that have washed through the leafy towns and villages of the affluent Thames Valley have conjured up stereotypes of wealthy businessmen sitting in their Mercedes sports cars, lamenting the saturation of their plush holiday retreats. Unsurprisingly, in places like my home city of Hull, where essential services have been savagely cut, this mental image does not inspire sympathy.

I have to admit that I was angered by the way in which the government sat idly on its hands as the Somerset Levels was turned into a chilly homage to the Everglades, and I was absolutely outraged at the brazen hypocrisy when I heard the Prime Minister promising "whatever help was necessary" and that "money was no object" as soon as the Thames began to lick ominously at the towpaths of the leafy Conservative heartlands, despite Hull and similar areas losing Sure Start centres, Walk in centres, School investment and many more essential services for disadvantaged communities as a result of the country supposedly having no money left.

Look past the preconceptions of opulent dinner parties and Tory party fundraisers on the village green though, and you soon realise that the economic demographics of the Thames Valley is far from one dimensional. Like much of the Home Counties, the Thames Valley hides poverty well. I spent more than a decade living in West Sussex, and in London. Much of that time was as a schoolboy living in social housing. Trust me, an affluent postcode does not guarantee wealth! The fact is that the housing bubble never quite managed to deflate in the South East, and as such there are still legions of people riding on the nonsensical inflation in the value of their homes. It is easy to forget that not far from the gated communities and detached riverside homes are council, and housing association estates full of the low paid, the unemployed, the vulnerable. These people have also been flooded, and are perhaps as forgotten, if not more so, than the residents of the remotest regions.

If the PM had offered this unlimited help to all areas affected, and had made special mention of those living in real poverty under the shadow of what was brilliantly termed on twitter last night as "Toryshire" I could have respected and applauded such an equitable and robust response. But he did not. The response of the government has not been equitable. It has been far from robust. It has been lethargic, and as sodden with excuses as the villages of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall are with mud and filth.

I find it depressingly predictable how the government are disinterested in the suffering and difficulty of people who have been rendered vulnerable by these floods, until the waters sweep through the stomping ground of their most loyal donors and staunchest activists. The media swung into action, launching constant news updates from the Thames Valley, whereas previously we had only received periodical updates from saturated regional correspondents. Residents stoically guided hungry film crews around sprawling houses ankle deep in brown sludge. Many of these people have been vociferously advocating the misguided policies of this Tory led coalition, applauding loudly as more and more services are slashed from the people living in the poorest areas. Many of them take to social media demanding that the state be made smaller, that the reach of government be shortened, that the tax burden of the already obscenely wealthy be almost eliminated in favour of a nasty war of attrition on the working poor and vulnerable. Ironically, these same voices are now screeching at the government to flex every muscle of the state in order to come to their aid.

This disaster (and that is exactly what these floods constitute) have exposed the exceptions to, and fallacies of stereotypes. But whilst the working poor and the vulnerable of Berkshire and the Thames Valley quietly struggle to dry out their social housing, the saga has also reinforced the preconception that the Conservatives can only ever be genuinely moved by the suffering of their own, who rant and rail at those less fortunate than themselves, and the essential services they rely upon, whilst bathing obliviously in the irony of their pleas for the reassuring arms of help solve their problems.

Am I saying that the wealthy residents of the Thames Valley are deserving of the devastation that floods bring? Of course not. They are enduring a harrowing ordeal, and are firmly in my thoughts. Am I saying that the poor in those areas are more deserving of flood relief? Not at all. I am saying that they, like the residents of the Somerset Levels, and the South West, are easily forgotten in the media clamour to massage the bruised egos of the Tory faithful. I just hope that those clamouring for the help of the state will remember their hour of need, and who in hard times they turned to, the next time they read the hysterical prejudices and lazy rantings about the poor and vulnerable in the pages of the right wing gutter press.