In Westminster this morning, Cabinet ministers are looking nervously at their diaries. They’re wondering whether they’ll be the next to get the call asking them to try to smooth down the comms mess the government has made of the floods. Eric Pickles didn’t make a great go of it this weekend. Philip Hammond has just managed to tell the Today programme that politicians don’t ‘do’ yes-no questions in an attempt to avoid saying whether or not he backs Lord Smith (presumably because whatever he says, Number 10 will change its mind on the line a few minutes later). Perhaps tomorrow we’ll have Francis Maude dodging questions on the Environment Agency by giving flooded homeowners tips on sandbags. And after that William Hague being vague.
For what it’s worth, the current line seems to be that having whipped the media up into a frenzy about the demise of Chris Smith, ministers are to say nothing about him in as many words as possible:
‘This is not the time for recriminations or for discussions of who did what when. We can do that afterwards.
‘Politicians don’t do yes-no questions. I want to work with the Environment Agency, all the senior officials there, including Lord Smith, to get the best result we can for the people who are facing this terrible crisis.’
But quite aside from the spirit of timidity that leads politicians to set up so many quangos, ruling out an entire class of question really is a miserable place for a totally confusing comms operation to end up.