IS THERE a connection between the proposed ban on smoking in cars with children and our reaction to the ongoing floods?

Now, without a doubt I’m about to stride into perilous, fast moving waters with this comment – and minus my wellies.

It is a brave columnist, I would suggest, as the flood waters rise and thousands attempt to cope with the utter misery it brings, who from the safety of dry, high ground – well the Daily Echo’s offices at Redbridge – ponders whether we are witnessing a shift in the British way of life?

And I’m not just referring to the atrocious weather this winter.

Just as important to us as a nation as any plans to prevent and contain future ravages by Mother Nature, is our understanding of our reaction to this winter ‘crisis’.

Put bluntly, have we managed to turn a medium-sized difficulty into an over-blown disaster?

The fact that I now must temper these comments with a reiteration of my true understanding, sympathy and to some extent empathy (the Murrays have not been untouched by the weather’s rage) with those facing the flooding of their homes, underscores the difficulty anyone faces when attempting to discuss these matters.

Yet on the scale of world-class major disasters, our flooding difficulties pale into insignificance.

Large areas of the world face regular flooding of truly Biblical proportions.

In recent years even central Europe, especially Germany, Poland and France, and large parts of the United States have coped with raging waters that make the swelling of the Thames and the Itchen look like fast-flowing streams.

Here in this country we have also suffered far worse. The Lynmouth flood of 1952 killed 34 people and destroyed over 80 buildings. The North Sea flood of the following year caused 50 deaths in Britain.

Compare those events with this week’s hysterical live news coverage of the odd shop sign being blown across the prom at Blackpool and the Navy stacking sandbags in Winchester.

Certainly the emergence of the wellie-wearing, rain-swept TV reporter, standing next to a galeblown beachfront where waves – as they always do at this time of the year – crash against the sea wall, has become a staple. As has the inevitable blame game. Who hasn’t done something, and when will laws be passed to make them do it in the future?

No wonder politicians rush to grab their very plain wellingtons (mustn’t be seen to be expensive) and wade into the fray. Thus we are locked in a media weather-hype cycle just as much as the cycle of storms that are battering the nation. He who dares to call for reasoned comparison risks – as I fear I do – being shouted down.

It is the same for this week’s decision by politicians to prepare for a ban on smoking in vehicles where children are present. Any sensible person would say this makes sense.

But sensible folks know that if it is dangerous for the health of children, then it is bad for just about anyone travelling in a smoke-filled car. Why should the ban not be extended to any car where there are passengers regardless of age? And if it is bad news inside a vehicle, why not in the living room or kitchen at home?

The nanny state? Most definitely.

But once when the British people could be relied on to howl down such interference in their liberties, today such is the shift in society that laws restricting citizens’ freedom of choice ‘for their own good’ are being nodded through with barely a mutter.

Smoking bans, minimal alcohol prices, sugar-rich food restrictions – just watch this space.

Closer to home, and this week also saw the question about whether Southampton should introduce a blanket 20mph restriction in all residential areas become a political debating issue. Nanny state or sensible restriction? The point is moot, as the decision is beyond doubt.

But look, I get it. The waters are rising. Children shouldn’t have to inhale smoke in cars. Motorists should drive more slowly on residential streets. It’s just that if we keep on shrinking as an independent people, capable of rising to the challenges the world sets before us without the soothing hand of the nanny state to solve all our difficulties, then we risk becoming the frightened, timid, useless creatures some sections of the media seem to think we already are.