The old buffer was only joking, I think, but that won’t stop sections of the media using the flood crisis to bash the Government. The Telegraph may say in its leader column that ‘nobody is to blame for this Biblical weather,’ but elsewhere in the paper they proclaim ‘problems building up for Brown’.
As George Bush found to his cost, he may not have been blamed for the New Orleans hurricane, but he was deemed responsible for failures in dealing with the crisis. While there are obviously material things that the Government can do to help out in a flood crisis, good public relations is vital.
The single most important thing is being seen to be doing something – and visibility of the Prime Minister is part of that. But Brown must have thought Christmas had come early as he made his Monday morning visit to the flood-hit areas, when he noticed that David Cameron was away in Rwanda on what many will see as yet another stunt by the Tory leader.
It was in fact a senior political hack at the Telegraph who joined me for lunch at Lord’s. He told me that, for the past year, virtually every senior Tory he had talked to could not wait for the day Brown took over from Blair. What was clear was that they completely underestimated the new PM and are now counting the cost.
It may be too early to gauge how well Brown has done in the flood crisis, but Cameron certainly can’t do much from Rwanda and his luck seems to be running out too. He had no control over the dates for the two by-elections, which came just as Brown was enjoying his honeymoon. Even God seems to have deserted the Tories, as the heavens opened days before Cameron’s trip.
To cancel would have been seen as panic, yet being out of the country as Middle England sinks will hardly win new votes. When Cameron does return, he faces a Conservative Party in a very jittery mood. The one thing he must not do is panic. Before leaving for Africa, he let it be known that there will be ‘no retreat’ to the ‘comfort zone’ of traditional right-wing policies. He is absolutely right.
Blair liked to chide Tory leaders that he led and they ‘followed’. Now is the time for Cameron to lead, because whatever the public think about his policies they like strong leaders – and right now Brown is showing strong leadership.