FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Britain’s Response to the Beast from the East

While the bibliophile and aphorist Samuel Johnson claimed that people of appropriate mental discipline could avoid talking about the weather, the British have found weather an irresistible topic of conversation.  Storms are recalled with  nostalgic exaggeration; accounts are rendered colourful after the fact.

The Beast from the East, as this latest cold freeze has been termed, stands as a form of climactic terror, storming its way through life without care or favour. Even the language is laden with suggestiveness, a Siberian nightmare forcing its way into the lives of Europeans with refrigerating potential.  Ominously, it has been working in tandem with a storm innocuously named Emma.

Such is the mythological fear of unruly weather, intemperate and beyond placation.  Omens are sought, fear noted.  The Great Storm of 1703, as it was termed, led Queen Anne to call it “a Calamity so Dreadful and Astonishing, that the like hath not been Seen or Felt, in the Memory of any Person Living in this Our Kingdom.”  Some 6,000 sailors lost their lives, a costly toll given British participation in the Spanish War of Succession.  It also inspired novelist Daniel Defoe to compile The Storm the following year, a work considered a work of masterful journalistic assemblage.

Meteorologists in the UK have released their predictions suggesting that the freeze of March 2018 is the worst since 1962.  Schools across the country have been closed – 330 in Kent alone.  Irritation at having idle children at home has been expressed, a point similarly made last December when closures affected 2,300 schools across the country.  “We’re breeding,” exclaimed one Howard Webster in The Daily Mail with eugenic fury, “a generation of wimps governed by a generation scared shitless by health and safety regulation.”

The snow fall has also had a freezing delay on transport services.  Serious cases of gridlock on the M80, seeing the stranding of hundreds of drivers between the cities of Glasgow and Sterling, have been registered.

The army has been deployed to supply various services, including the transport of 200 NHS clinical and support staff.  This, in a statement released on March 2, would “enable staff to change over their shifts while the amber weather warning remains for most of Scotland until 10am tomorrow.”

Weather and environmental disruptions have an unmasking effect.  They induce patriotic insensibilities on climate and condition.  With a degree of derision, various public responses from countries more accustomed to dealing with heavy snow have done the rounds.  Canada and the Scandinavian countries have been heavily represented in that regard.  “I knew it was snowing in the UK,” came a caustic Becca McDonald, “but didn’t know it was so full of Snowflakes.”

Such weather disturbances also expose the reprehensible limits of government policy, laying bare chronic inequalities and shoddy administrative decisions.  For Eve Livingstone, while a certain “lack of readiness can probably best be explained by a combination of factors, the hard truth is that almost all of these are ultimately ideological.”

Austerity, budget depletions and slashings normalised by Tory governments, have all done their bit to cripple what might have been better managed efforts to combat extreme weather.  The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the body charged with the associated tasks of combating such phenomena, has been a sitting target for the razor gangs.  In 2016, its staff received the ominous news that funding would be cut by 15 percent over four years.  This gutting effort came on top of the previous year’s raiding, which saw a quarter of its budget cut.

As Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee stated, “The challenges facing Defra are, first, whether the reduced budget available to it is sufficient for its task, and second how to make the correct policy choices so as to allocate smaller funds effectively.”

The National Grid also found itself in a pessimistic mood, warning that gas supply might be disrupted in responding to the cold.  The deficit warning, the first in eight years, was subsequently withdrawn, though it did encourage Ken Cronin, chief executive officer of UK Onshore Oil and Gas to claim that Britain was “worryingly dependent on gas imports”, one set to  “increase to 80 percent by 2035.”

The social response to such weather patterns is also a mirror of ritual and practices.  Heavy snow and freezing conditions did their bit to bring out the parlous state of employment in various parts of the country.  Conditions where zero-hour contracts prevail necessitate a braving of conditions when, in other jobs, employees might be able to work from home.

This has prompted movements to take hold with a certain moral bite, such as the Better than Zero campaign in Scotland.  That particular outfit has attempted to enlist employers to resist punitive action against employees who prefer safety over a dash to the workplace.  “No one,” goes one post to the organisation’s Facebook profile, “should be penalised or disciplined for following the advice not to travel to work for their own safety.”

Scotland’s Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, has spent time discouraging and even scolding such actions. “Frankly I’d be extremely disappointed if employers chose to dock wages for somebody because they couldn’t travel during the red weather warning.”

As with any such collective response, variations abound.  British media have been scouring for the tinsel moments, the necessary distractions that lessen the seriousness of the event. But the entertainment remains fluff to the gloom unleased by the Beast from the East, working in league with Storm Emma.  A depleted, and freezing Britannia, awaits the thaw.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
November 14, 2019
Laura Carlsen
Mexico’s LeBaron Massacre and the War That Will Not Cease
Joe Emersberger
Oppose the Military Coup in Bolivia. Spare Us Your “Critiques”
Ron Jacobs
Trump’s Drug Deal Goes to Congress: Impeachment, Day One
Paul Edwards
Peak Hubris
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail