With Parliament enjoying a brief recess, the Prime Minister has embarked on another round of visits to flood ravaged Britain.
The aim of this latest tour is to give reassurance to those affected areas. After a sluggish start to their response, the Government is pulling out all the stops in helping to hold back the waters and, where possible, kick off the clean-up operation.
This point was driven home by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on The Andrew Marr Show this Sunday, who admitted there had been a problem with the civil authorities accepting offers of help. Mr Hammond said the change came a couple of weeks ago when they “pushed harder” to get military commanders embedded in the so-called Gold Teams.
The implication was clear, we (the Government) had wanted to do more but it was the local bureaucrats who were slow to react. Now the PM and I are in control there will be none of these problems and we will do whatever is needed.
To underline this point, Mr Hammond went on to reveal that the Royal Engineers would be conducting an audit of the nation’s infrastructure and flood defences, compressing what should be a two year process into just five weeks. He also said that around 3,000 troops had been deployed, but another 5,000 were on standby. Expect to see more deployed over the coming weeks.
His comments highlighted two important points. Firstly, the nervousness of the Government over criticism that they were slow to react to this disaster, especially as 27 of the worst effected constituencies are Coalition held marginals compared with just two Labour seats.
These concerns will be heightened by a new ComRes polling showing 72 percent of the public think the Government is not in control of the flooding crisis.
Secondly, Number 10 feels that it has finally hit on a winning strategy. Send for “General” Hammond and deploy the troops.
Nothing it would seem is more reassuring to the British public than having troops on the ground, taking control and taking action. Certainly the media coverage has shifted in recent days, with our screens and newspapers less dominated by flooded houses and angry homeowners.
Now we see lines of soldiers, marines and sailors building sandbag walls with interviews from calm and reassuring officer types, explaining what they are doing and how they are protecting us from harm.
So, for now at least, Mr Cameron hopes to have stopped the rot. But the slick PR and the deployment of British military personnel is just one small step in solving this crisis.
The more complicated issue will be the clean-up and apportioning blame.
The clean-up operation could take months, or even years, and Mr Hammond and his troops will be invaluable. Rebuilding roads, flood defences and railway lines takes time, but having thousands of troops putting their backs into this task sends a strong message and rapidly speeds up the process.
Then there is the task of making sure the insurance companies cough up quickly, hence today’s meeting between Dave and the chief executives of Britain’s top insurance firms.
Finally, there will be many questions to answer. Would dredging have helped? Is the Environment Agency fit for purpose? Why was Government only spurred into action when the good people of Surrey were flooded, when those in Somerset were suffering since Christmas? And interestingly, who will be the sacrificial lamb(s), fired for the initial anaemic response to the disaster?
If the PM fails to answer any of these or get the clean-up right, not even Philip Hammond and his troops will be able to save his reputation.
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