2007 - 2022

Rivers of Shit

Shit has been a constant theme of Brexit, like a lurking subtweet, an indefatigable turd poking its inconvenient head back up the u-bend of constitutional politics. Keen readers will recall that Kent was recently re-dubbed the Toilet of England after truck drivers lobbied bottles of piss into peoples front gardens and crapped everywhere. In Johnson’s Britain the bar is so low in 2021 that news that a new Environment Bill will be strengthened with an amendment that will see “a duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows” is seen as some great victory.

Yesterday footage was released of untreated sewage being discharged into a Hampshire harbour. It showed a brown cloud spreading through blue-green waters. The video was remarkable enough to get onto the BBC.

We live in a country with rivers of shit, empty supermarket shelves and food rotting in the fields, the NHS groaning in crisis and a tsunami of mental health problems waiting down the line – and this is what the Tories are calling the ‘Age of Optimism‘.

None of this was an accident. As Edward Hayward has noted: “Just six days earlier, 268 Tory MPs voted to strip an amendment (Lords Amendment 45) from the Environment Bill. The amendment had been aimed at minimising the discharge of raw sewage into British waters.”

The problem is a crumbling sewage network, privatised public utilities and completely inadequate regulation. Hayward again:

“UK water companies paid over £400 million in fines between 2010 and 2021, including a £4 million fine for Thames Water and a record £90 million fine for Southern Water in 2021. The consequence of this catalogue of failure is horrific. Up to 10% of days during the UK’s summer bathing season were lost to sewage in 2019. Water firms discharged raw sewage on over 400,000 occasions in 2020. Every single one of England’s rivers would fail a cleanliness test as of 2021. NOTE: The problem is that these fines, while superficially large, represent only a tiny fraction of each firm’s income, so it will always remain cheaper for them to pay up and keep polluting than take corrective action — unless the law compels them to seek a lasting solution.”

As ex-Undertone Feargal Sharkey pointed out, “104 days after been fined £90m for dumping sewage into the environment and less than 12 hours after Gov voted to protect water companies and not our rivers, @SouthernWater were dumping sewage at 60, yes 60, different locations along the south coast of England.

But while the public is told that the fines are huge and the investment is in the millions (it is) – it is nothing next to the vast amounts disgorged to shareholders. As Sandra Laville points out:

“English water companies have handed more than £2bn a year on average to shareholders since they were privatised three decades ago, according to analysis for the Guardian. The payouts in dividends to shareholders of parent companies between 1991 and 2019 amount to £57bn – nearly half the sum they spent on maintaining and improving the country’s pipes and treatment plants in that period.”

That’s a lot of money sluicing about.

It is all – as Sharkey says “hypocrisy on a global scale” – but also points to the systemic nature of the ecological crisis. It is not all about carbon, it speaks to the wider relationship of nature seen as a product to be exploited endlessly and dumped on continuously. But it also seems like an example of “making visible” the nature of the crisis and the depth of the dysfunctionality at the heart of the system.


Comments (22)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    Really don’t care what’s happening in England. We’ve had enough excrement from them ..so it’s entertaining to see them throw it at themselves for a change….Independence can’t come soon enough.

    1. Chris Connolly* says:

      That’s a daft response. Feargal Sharkey is Irish but he is still prepared to stand up for the people affected by this scandalous situation. People in Hampshire are as entitled to the same protection, and the same level of consideration and support, as everybody else.

      Boring to keep on saying it but simple contempt for the people of England is a lousy argument for Scottish independence. We can do much better than that.

      1. Papko says:

        Well said.

      2. Agreed Chris – monitoring the state of the British state and the consequences of Brexit are key to understanding where we are what we are part of. Solidarity with people in England is key.

      3. Mons Meg says:

        Whether or not Feargal Sharkey identifies ethnically as ‘Irish’, he’s civically a Londoner. He’s also chairman of the exclusive Amwell Magna Fishery (part of the huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’ brigade – ‘the oldest fly fishing club in the United Kingdom’ – only 60 members allowed at any one time – “Have you heard of the saying Dead Man’s Shoes? Someone has to die for you to become a member here,” Feargal once boasted) on the River Lea in Hertfordshire. As such, he actively campaigns against the pollution of British rivers (particularly chalk streams) and for the regulation of the water industry as it impacts on his sport. He’s not only against effluence; he also campaigns against traditional rural employments, like gravel extraction and flood control, and for the gentrification/’rewilding’ of the countryside.

        A real man-of-the-people is auld Feargal!

        1. Tom Ultuous says:

          He was The Housemartins before he became Feargal Sharkey and one of his best known hits was ‘Evidently Chickentown’ (written by Arthur C. Clarke) about a man on his street who emptied bins. Then you find out he’s into killing wee fish. It just goes to show you should never put a human being on a pedalstool because they invariably turn out to be damp squids.

          1. Fred says:

            I have no idea what you have been smoking, and I’m maybe too stupid to understand your humour if that’s what you intended BUT…

            Feargal Sharkey was never in the HouseMartins
            Evidently Chickentown was neither a HouseMartins nor an Undertones nor a Feargal Sharkey song
            Arthur C Clarke wrote many things, but Evidently Chickentown was not one of them. Try John Cooper Clarke.

          2. Tom Ultuous says:

            Right said Fred, was that not one of his as well? It was a wind up Fred. Sorry you didn’t find it humorous.

        2. Chris Connolly* says:

          Mons Meg’s contribution has nothing at all to do with the matter at hand. I couldn’t send it up any better than Tom Ultuous has done but I’ll say this: Scots & English, white & black, Christians, Jews, Atheists, Muslims and all other religions & none, men & women, gay & straight; we are all brothers and sisters together, and till we accept that fact and stand in solidarity we’ll continue to have our land occupied, our people sent to fight in stupid wars and our water courses poisoned.

          1. Niemand says:

            Hm, yes, but at some point you have to decide who is having the most detrimental effect otherwise nothing ever changes for the better. In this instance, those polluting the rivers are the bad guys and those getting it stopped, the good. But maybe the bad guys need more persuasion than vilification as in general, that approach always works better and for longer.

            Associating rewilding with gentrification is unfair and a bit crass – in many cases, re-wilding may actually be the solution to the collapse of the economics of farming in tougher areas, and provide employment where there is currently none. And very many people love wild areas, not just the privileged.

          2. Mons Meg says:

            Rewilding is about land use and, in particular, its repurposing for leisure and recreational rather than industrial use. People do love rewilded areas as places to which they can ‘get away’; they’re asylums and retreats rather than habitations. They’re the rural equivalent of those ‘quarters’ in towns and cities where people go to enjoy a boutique lifestyle rather than live and work. I meant ‘gentrification’ in much the same sense that Leith was cleared and repurposed from the 1960s onwards.

          3. Niemand says:

            It is about land use but that land can be highly unproductive farmland or similar, and desert-like denuded moorland, and those currently trying to work such places can develop a new career tending it. Rewilding is not just about leisure and recreation – it is an end of itself i.e. to encourage wildlife, biodiversity and the depth of wilderness that is needed for certain species etc. If it were for leisure it would not be that wild. Your characterisation is a biased one that doesn’t really understand what rewilding is.

          4. Mons Meg says:

            Yes, I know it’s biased. I see the world from within the process of my own evolving appropriation of it through the work I do; it can’t be anything other than biased.

            Rewilding is a management process (work) that aims at a specific outcome: the restoration of ‘healthy’ ecosystems. Those whose work this say that a ‘healthy’ ecosystem is a dynamic but stable self-regulating and self-sustaining one, with near pre-human levels of species diversity. They say that to achieve such an ecosystem is to achieve what they call ‘environmental justice’.

            There are a lot of presuppositions (‘biases’) in that ideology that need to be deconstructed in order for it to evolve or sublate (‘aufheben’). There is also the matter of identifying the class whose interests that ideology serves.

            Leaving aside the work of deconstruction, the project of clearing the land of human intervention (‘giving the land back to wildlife and wildlife back to the land’) clearly serves the interests of those who wish to repurpose the land as wilderness whose amenity they can enjoy as such. Ideologically, wilderness produces a ‘just’ or stable world that satisfies their bourgeois conception of justice as fair exchange, an exchange in which resources are balanced according to some natural self-regulation of supply and demand on the analogy of a free (laissez-faire) market.

            Rewilding is an ideology of capitalism; it emanates as a management process from the relations of production by which we currently appropriate the world as a ‘world’. My work is to loosen the hegemony of capitalism by unmasking its ideologies as ideologies and helping those ideologies give birth to their own immanent deconstruction. That’s how Marxians nowadays change the world.

  2. Axel P Kulit says:

    The fines also count as government revenue.

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      To say nothing of the Bitcoin pushbacks for allowing it to continue.

  3. Wul says:

    I remember in primary school ( in the 1960’s) we collected money to send to poor “third-world” nations to help them improve their sanitation. We were told that until the clever, white westerners intervened the ignorant locals were shitting in their own rivers.

    We’ve come a long way since then.

    1. Tony Paterson says:

      This is amusingly depressing. Or depressingly amusing.

  4. Richard Easson says:

    At least the shareholders are flush.

    1. Derek says:

      b’dum pish!

  5. Glasgow Clincher says:

    You know – whatever your point and I mostly agree – it does your cause and reputation no good whatsoever by using – and repeating – vulgar language. You’re as bad as the video I saw in my doctor’s surgery where it used words like ‘poo’ and ‘wee’ to make a point about diabetes; ‘urinate’ is only 3 syllables, the same as ‘insulin’ which it also managed to use without any problem.

    1. Axel P Kulit says:

      Unfortunately the “cultured” words you recommend merely sanitise the situation. The emotional charge of the words about which you complain ( and it’s the everyday language of the people) is part of the message.

      Saying “Brexit is excrement” is a safe, hidden, middle class message that all is actually under control. As can be seen at the seaside that is not the case.

    2. Mons Meg says:

      Axel’s right, GC; the expressions to which you object function to communicate more than just the facts. They also communicate the correct attitude the user wants you to adopt towards those facts. It’s a rhetorical use of language, in other words.

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