Shit.

I must apologize for giving this blog such a coarse and vulgar title but I couldn’t think of another one that was more suitable because this week the news has been dominated by raw sewage, which our private water companies are being allowed to dump in our rivers and lakes and all around the sea coast. As you see here.

The Labour MP for Streatham, Bell Ribiero-Addy, (Respec’ Bell) put it very succinctly on Twitter

Private water companies,’ she wrote, ‘are crapping on us from a great height. The average household in England pays £53 a year on top of their water bills to subsidise shareholders’ dividends. How do they repay us? By piping sewage into our rivers, lakes and the sea.’

And Jon Trickett MP (Respec’ Jon) listed the private water companies at fault. Here is his list

‘70% of our waterways,’ he wrote, ‘are owned by:

  • Malaysian Corp. Cayman Islands based
  • US Hedge funds
  • German Asset Firm
  • US Equity Corps
  • US Bank.
  • UAE, Kuwait and China Investment
  • Australian Global Asset Corp.

‘They pollute our waters,’ he says, ‘overcharging and move profits abroad. Public ownership is the answer.’

So what had happened to make the water companies feel secure about behaving in such a high-handed and anti-social way? Well to put it briefly, 265 Tory MPs had voted against an amendment to a government bill put down by the Duke of Wellington which would have made such behaviour illegal.

The amendment is very clear and seems absolutely reasonable, I quote it here:“141ZA Duty on sewerage undertakers to take all reasonable steps to ensure untreated sewage is not discharged from storm overflows“.

Nevertheless 265 Tory MPs either decided to vote against it on their own behalf or were whipped into into voting against it. And the news of their decision broke on social media early in the week when all of the 265 were named and shamed and had their mug shots on display. The outcry against them from their constituents and others was immediate, massive and furious. ‘Allons enfants’ I could almost smell the gunpowder.

And in Wednesday’s Guardian, a guarded article by Helena Horton headed ‘Ministers in partial U-turn over sewage amendment’

22 Conservative MPs had rebelled against the government to vote in favour of the amendment and after the outcry against the 265 one of the rebels who is called Phillip Dunne and is the chair of the Environment Audit Committee admitting that ‘although it was just 22 of us last week, awareness of this issue has been raised. There were many who abstained and many who did not understand the gravity of the issue, who have been made aware by constituents and colleagues.’

Certainly the figures she quotes in this article are big enough to make the more timid MPs think again. There were 403,171 sewage spills into English rivers and Seas in 2020, according to the Environment Agency, totally more that 3.1 million hours of spillages.

Entendez-vous, dans les campagnes

Mugir ces féroces soldats?

Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras

Égorger nos fils, nos compagnes.

The 265 have certainly done their fair share of Mugir-ing and although they’re not yet cutting throats, they are certainly risking the health of all our citizens and I kid you not. The sort of infection that you can catch from untreated sewage is hideously and painfully unpleasant. I know because it happened to me when I was seventeen. I’ll explain briefly. I spent a lot of my time during summer holiday swimming and that summer I had swum most days from a battered red buoy about a mile out at sea, I didn’t know it marked the outlet for raw sewage, but the result was that I caught streptococcus and was seriously ill for more than six weeks. To give you some idea how seriously, I weighed 9st 10, when I caught the illness, but 7st 4, by the time I could stand up again. Raw sewage is bloody dangerous.

I’m going to give the penultimate word to Pam Ayres who has written one of her splendid poems about it all. Respec’ Pam.

Now river life is dying
And turning up its feet
Along the Shitcreek River
Where vapours ain’t so sweet
Where water ain’t so crystal
Where sewage oozes down
Along the Shitcreek River
Where the waters turning brown.

And the final word is another poem and that’s called ‘It’s no good thinking about it.’ I wrote it in March 1978 at the start of the Winter of Discontent.

A plastic mind is cheap and closed
And will admit no growth,
All change resisted till it warps or splits
Or both.

Neon opinion’s automatic flash
Requires no thought,
Will change electric colour in an instant,
And can be bought.

Flotsam democracy of empty heads;
One name, one vote,
Even on tides of grief and poverty
Will simply float.

Fear is the silencer on tyranny’s gun.
The observant know what’s wrong
Yet acquiesce because the threat is aimed
At their own young

An open mind can suffer fear and pain
As well as growth.
Perhaps a lack of thought is preferable,
Defence not sloth.

Our helpless anomie in the grip of power may prove
That atrophy is best,
Since we survive if we reduce ourselves
To plastic like the rest.

And yet. And yet. The happy tyrant should not quite forget.

Plastic can warp, can split,
Or can become
In the ultimate despair of powerlessness,
A terrorist bomb.

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