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An incompetent response to the floods could lose Cameron the election

13 February 2014

David Cameron can’t win the next election in the next three weeks, but he can lose it. If the floods see the government forfeit its reputation for competence, then the coalition parties won’t get the credit they need for the economic recovery. As John Major’s experience after Black Wednesday showed, once a government is no longer seen as competent, it doesn’t receive any of the credit for the good things that happen on its watch.

Number 10 is acutely conscious of this and, as I say in the column this week, the whole building from the Prime Minister to the Policy Unit is now working on the government’s response. One normally level-headed official tells me that the place is ‘on a war footing‘.


There are two parts to showing that the government has a grip. The first is dealing with the floods now that they have hit. The second is showing that decisions the government has taken since 2010 haven’t made the situation worse.

I suspect the second aspect of this challenge will be more problematic for the government than the first. As Christopher Booker eloquently argues in the magazine this week, the Environment Agency’s policies have compounded the problems on the Somerset Levels. But Caroline Spelman’s decision to reappoint Chris Smith as chair of the Environment Agency in 2011 means that the coalition can’t wash its hands of the way the Agency has handled the situation.

This flooding is going to go on for a long time. Those leading the government’s response to it expect that there still be parts of the country that are under water at Easter. If Cameron gets this wrong, then it will be a disaster for him. But if he is seen to handle the crisis well, then he’ll have strengthened his claim to be the best Prime Minister on offer. ​

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  • AlecM

    Here it is, the big secret underlying the failure of the EA to prevent flooding of the Somerset levels has been leaked by an anonymous insider. It’s to do with the water supply system developed in WWII for the Royal Ordnance Factory and taken over by the EA in 2008 when that factory finally closed:

    Forget AGW: Somerset was flooded by E.A. Incompetence

    “We advised that the Huntspill be automated and the Kings Sedgemoor Drain be pumped and made strong representation to that effect.

    But every meeting with the EA ended in frustration as they never sent a single seriously knowledgeable Drainage Engineer to any meeting. The Levels Boards understood the issues and tried to get the pumps installed.

    It didn’t happen.”

    PS If you look at Google Earth for Burrowbridge, and move south east, you see a parallel drain which eventually enters the King’s Sedgemoor Drain to the East of Westonzoyland. Because the KSD is silted up and is not pumped properly, this overflow has ceased to work, meaning the flooding which used to be distributed over the Levels, is now concentrated in the Parrett and Tone regions.

  • chui1996

    Events, Dear Boy, Events

  • Colonel Mustard

    The greatest mistake the British people could ever make would be to put Labour back in power again five short years after the experiences of 1997-2010 and whilst the unelected and unaccountable socialist shadow government is still established.

    If they do they will deserve everything they get and I hope that every idiot who votes Labour comes to rue the day.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …thanks to the H2B, that mistake has already been made.

  • Rockin Ron

    Cameron is out of his depth.

  • George_Arseborne

    You must be living in a fantasy land mate. Even right deep into Cameron’s mind, he knows it will be over for him in 2015. He does not need to do anything. He has proven beyond reasonable doubt that he can not be a leader. But to be fair to him, he had achieved his dream… One of British Prime Minister.

    • Dicky14

      When asked why he wanted to be Prime Minister, Cameron replied ‘because I think i’d be good at it’, hmm, yeah, not so much kid, no not so much.

  • pigou_a

    I love the way hacks think they don’t need to mention Cameron’s cuts to spending on flood defences.

    Your industry is dying, this laughably ill informed level of reporting is why.

    Anyone wanting an accurate take on our “competent” government’s spending decisions is better off reading blogs:

  • saffrin

    Cameron has lost Cameron the chances of winning the next General Election regardless of the floods or his response.
    His only redeeming factor being he isn’t as bad as the last lot.

  • Alexsandr

    This has shown the agency approach, where ministers can devolve stuff to agencies then wash their hands of the matter is over. This stuff, – rivers, highways, student loans – all of them need to be brought back into government with overseeing by elected ministers.
    and their policies should be then open to scrutiny so these agencies cant follow their own agendas with public money but must work to the will of parliament.
    but this one is bad for the tories. the thames flooding is in their heartland surrey. it cant be ignored like hull and tewkesbury.

  • In2minds

    Cameron wants to repatriate powers from the EU but wants the UK to stay in
    the EU. And yet as Christopher Booker has shown the EU is at the root
    of the flood problem. Cameron cannot win because he does not
    understand the position he is in.

  • Daniel Maris

    He’s already got it wrong by leaving it for two months before involving the armed forces.

    It’s a question of whether he can retrieve the situation.

  • @PhilKean1

    LMAO !

    Lose an elect he already has no chance of winning.

    The more the “experts” create expectation by conjecture and the power of suggestion, the more it is likely that Conservatives will be lulled into a false sense of security and do nothing in the hope that Cameron has a chance of winning – all the way to certain defeat.

    You really couldn’t make it up.

    • Daniel Maris

      I agree. I can’t see UKIP coming in under 8% at a general election in 2015 and I can’t see the Tories winning if they do.

      • saffrin

        With UKIP taking millions of votes off both Labour and the Conservatives, the chances are many Conservative MP’s will walk across the floor in order to stop Cameron and Milliband forming a coalition.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          It will happen anyway, though. Dave won’t be a part of it, mind you, as the Millipedes will demand his scalp, but the rest of these socialists will do as you say. This will leave conservatives to build afresh, detoxified of all the socialist Cameroons. Long term, that’s probably UKIP’s plan, to see off those twits.

        • Daniel Maris

          Eh? What you on abart?

  • Donafugata

    Après le deluge, moi.

  • A_Libertarian_Rebel

    “As Christopher Booker eloquently argues in the magazine this week, the Environment Agency’s policies have compounded the problems on the Somerset Levels”

    True – but somewhat incomplete, presumably in an attempt to spare Cameroon embarrassment at its failure to reverse its appeasement of the EU, with the catastrophic results we now see.

    As Booker argues even more eloquently, the “Environment Agency’s policies” have been wholehearted adoption, with gold-plating on top, of the EU’s Environmental Directives, to further Green ideology. It was under this policy that dredging – and therefore safeguarding people and property – was abandoned, and not re-started under the Coalition. Indeed, it was the hapless Caroline Spelman who even re-appointed Labour metro-lefty stooge Smith as the EA’s Chairman.

    The Coalition’s almost 4 years’ failure to confront EU policy and Directives as the driver of the EA’s misguided approach ought to be an open goal for UKIP to highlight Cameroon reluctance to challenge EU direction, even when it’s manifestly wrong.

    That UKIP has, so far, missed this opportunity, preferring to concentrate instead on an ultimately pointless diversionary spat about foreign aid, is pure luck on the part of the Coalition, which it doesn’t deserve.

    • Daniel Maris

      You’re a libertarian. There were would be no flood defences except private ones if you were in charge and individuals would be allowed to flood other people’s land.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Dave lost this election yonks ago, lad.

    You should try to get out of that Londonistan bubble sometime.

  • MajorFrustration

    “Could lose” Given the floods will be around for weeks and property damages for months/year Cameron has already lost the election. Now would be a could time to dump him. Whats going to happen to the Banks with all those damaged properties which nobody will want to buy – more write offs and more Government help. Same old same old

  • CharlietheChump

    Looking at the electoral numbers Cameron has already lost the election. UKIP can win nothing but the screw turns,
    And the government have already cocked up the response to the floods. They are now engaged in digging themselves out of the cess pit into which they blundered.

  • Hello

    It’s all very interesting. This is the biggest tactical error Cameron has made for some time, and it shows where Labour are strategically that they aren’t really able to exploit it.

    If Cameron gets it right then it will enhance his position on competence, but if he gets it wrong I think it will mostly be a case of apathy amongst the public, incompetence will be ascribed to the politicians in general rather than the government.

    • Mynydd

      From now on every time Mr Cameron advocates a cut, justifiable or not, it will be, we are a wealthy country (Mr Pickles), money is no object. Mr Cameron lost any position he may have had on competence when he said we will spend whatever it takes, meaning we will borrow whatever it takes. There is now no difference between Mr Miliband/Balls and Mr Cameron/Osborne when it comes to spending and borrowing.

  • southerner

    “If the floods see the government forfeit its reputation for competence……”

    What reputation for competence is that then?

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