Politicians' media chasing flood tourism exposes lack of authenticity with voters

As the election looms, the welly wallies might want to learn from the princes.

Francis Ingham: "Suddenly the politicians’ media chasing seems rather hollow."
Francis Ingham: "Suddenly the politicians’ media chasing seems rather hollow."

Two new terms have entered the public consciousness this month: ‘welly wallies’ and ‘flood tourists’. Both are aimed at the politicians who have appeared sloshing through the waterlogged wastes of the UK.

Labour leader Ed Miliband was berated for wearing fresh-looking wellington boots, while David Cameron’s tour of the South West was dismissed as an attempt to use flooded residents as ‘extras’ in self-promotional footage. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was criticised on live TV by an exhausted flood warden in Berkshire.

And according to reports in The Telegraph, when a journalist asked a resident of the Somerset Levels if it "meant anything" to them that the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was visiting, she replied: "Nothing whatsoever."

"Why are you actually here?" came the dreaded question from one, as across the UK, politicians were met with displays of anger from local residents calling for soldiers rather than sound bites.

But if they fail to turn up, they will be lambasted even further, as Labour shadow floods spokesman Barry Gardiner can attest, who favoured sun-drenched Mexico over flood-hit Somerset and made the front page of the Mail on Sunday in the process.

It may seem as if politicians can’t win, but the key is authenticity. Being parachuted into a river armed only with a microphone and a concerned expression will earn few points in these media-savvy times. Instead, politicians should be trying to weave themselves into the action. It’s not easy, but the effect is far more memorable.

Look at princes William and Harry, discreetly helping the flood relief efforts around the Berkshire village of Datchet with a platoon of soldiers from the Household Cavalry.

Forming part of a human chain with soldiers and railway workers, they hauled heavy sandbags to help an area in which water was flowing beneath a railway track. In doing so, they provided some of the most lasting images from the floods. Foolishly, not a single politician thought to get involved like this.

The princes were pounced on by the media only when The Guardian blew their cover. Asked by reporters if he was enjoying helping out, Prince Harry said: "Not really, with you guys around."

Suddenly the politicians’ media chasing seems rather hollow. As election campaigning looms, the welly wallies might want to learn from the princes and let their back muscles do the talking. 

Francis Ingham is PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director

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