Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hazel Blears shows Philip Eden was right

The other day I quoted the wise words of Philip Eden:
We should guard against those who argue from the particular to the general, suggesting that, for instance, because it was the wettest month on record at one site in Sheffield, we could then call it Britain's wettest month on record.

If events are too easily labelled as "a new record" or "unprecedented", then the people we pay to keep our infrastructure running have a ready-made excuse for failure ... "It's never happened before so how could we be expected to plan for it?"
As Eden said on the radio a few days before the piece was published, there are many more measurements being taken and collated these days so there are bound to be more records set.

Nor is this a new observation. One of David Nobbs's Reginald Perrin books from the 1970s says at one point something like: "Today was the first day since 1927 that a weather record had not been set".

None of this stopped Hazel Blears falling back on this spurious defence in the Commons yesterday. When John Redwood asked why more than half the flood defences maintained by the Environment Agency in an unsatisfactory condition last year, Blears replied:
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the events of the past couple of weeks have in everybody’s terms been unprecedented. It is inevitable that whatever the defences we had put in place some would be breached in such circumstances.
As Eden said, "a ready-made excuse for failure".

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