Tom Richmond: Cameron has only himself to blame for the flak over floods

David Cameron talks to representatives from the emergency services, military, Network Rail and power companies at Bispham Fire Station, Blackpool
David Cameron talks to representatives from the emergency services, military, Network Rail and power companies at Bispham Fire Station, Blackpool
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I’M afraid David Cameron has only himself to blame for the flood of criticism – no pun intended – that the Government is receiving for its desperately slow response to the weather chaos and storm damage.

Don’t get me wrong. I accept that these climatic events are on an unprecedented scale and that it is simply impossible to protect every home and business, but this does not absolve the Prime Minister at all.

One entry in Cameron’s diary for Thursday of last week, the day when the Somerset Levels were already underwater, the railway line at Dawlish had been washed away and the swollen Thames was rising relentlessly, spoke volumes about his priorities.

On a day when he should have been ensuring that every contingency plan had been put in place – this is one weather calamity which had been accurately forecast by the Met Office and the Daily Express – Cameron trooped off to Birmingham for a photo-call with Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker to underline the Government’s commitment to school sport on the eve of the Winter Olympics.

Yes, school sport and the Olympic legacy is important, but did it really require the Tory leader to pose for the cameras, and make some fatuous comments about how he’s no match for his son on the football pitch, when someone in 10 Downing Street needed to be drafting in the Army and helping make sure that sufficient sandbags were available for properties in flood-threatened areas?

This is what Margaret Thatcher would have done – and Cameron should have been doing likewise rather than trying to match Tony Blair’s obsession with celebrities.

Could you imagine Britain’s first female leader leaving Downing Street during the height of the Falklands conflict to take part in a photo-call with a celebrity?

No, I can’t either.

It is why it was then nauseating to watch Cameron, and sundry other politicians, visit flood-hit areas to offer sympathy and smiles for the TV cameras.

If they had been quicker off the mark, whether it be with Operation Sandbag or ensuring that the Environment Agency was ‘fit for purpose’ and in a position to dredge the Somerset Levels, Britain may not be facing so much havoc in the coming days, weeks and months.

It’s not only Cameron whose reputation for leadership is in danger of sinking without trace – Defence Secretary Philip Hammond resembled a gibbering wreck when he was confronted by defiant mother Su Burrows during a visit to flood-stricken Wraysbury on the banks of the Thames.

She admitted afterwards to having “a big gob”, but she was right to give the hopeless Hammond a dressing-down in front of the Sky News cameras.

After all, he is MP for Runneymede and Weybridge, two communities that border the Thames, and he should not have been surprised by the damage being caused by the floods.

I’m afraid he showed why he’s not fit to be a constituency MP, never mind the Secretary of State for Defence. If Hammond had been up to the job, he would have been calling up the Armed Forces 10 days ago rather than waiting until it was too late.

As such, it’s just a shame that Britain’s flood response is being led by such inept leaders rather than real people like Su Burrows – and all those other families – who predicted the crisis before being left high and dry by a government that now stands condemned because it put PR before practical help.

DO you remember the last election when “I agree with Nick” became the defining soundbite of the TV debates between party leaders as David Cameron and Gordon Brown courted Nick Clegg?

I was reminded of the phrase when Education Secretary Michael Gove made some very disparaging remarks about the Lib Dem leader and the Sheffield Hallam MP’s “split personality” when it comes to school reforms.

Gove said there was Good Nick who backs reform – and then Wicked Nick who panders to left-wing voters when it comes, for example, to Ofsted having greater powers to inspect the Minister’s favoured free schools and academies.

The timing of this is rather ironic – Gove is the Tory politician who said Labour peer Baroness Morgan had led Ofsted “in superlative fashion” days after ending her chairmanship of the quango.

It leads me to this conclusion. If the consequence of the Deputy Prime Minister putting his foot down is greater checks on the governance of those academies, like the Kings School Academy in Bradford, then I have to say that I agree with Nick.

I’M afraid my previous calls for greater clarity over the sentencing of criminals have been reinforced by the early release of disgraced former Rotherham MP Denis MacShane.

Sentenced to six months in prison for the misuse of his Parliamentary allowances, he walked free after just 
six weeks behind bars – a right accorded to those who pose no risk to public safety.

Yet I’m afraid it simply makes a mockery of the criminal justice system. If it was the intention of the courts for MacShane to spend six months in jail, why has this been ignored?

NICE to know I’m not the only technophobe in these parts after Yvette Cooper, the Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP, revealed her difficulties with Twitter.

“Once, my phone accidentally tweeted gibberish from the bottom of my handbag, and I got a barrage of replies,” disclosed the Shadow Home Secretary.

“One said that they had never heard a politician speak so much sense.”

THE only surprising aspect of the BBC’s desperate coverage of the Winter Olympics, and the historic bronze medal won by Jenny Jones, is that just 300 people complained to the Corporation about the immature idiots behind the microphone.

Perhaps viewers are still coming to terms with former athlete Steve Cram trying – and failing – to get to grips with his commentary duties on curling. I’m afraid great voices of the Winter Olympics, like Alan Weeks and David Coleman, will be turning in their graves at the extent to which sport has been dumbed down.

Thirty years ago yesterday, Weeks had the privilege of being behind the microphone when Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s mesmeric Bolero routine won Olympic gold. Poetry on ice, his commentary could not have been more straightforward as the judges revealed their scores: “Nine sixes, every one a six.” He let the pictures then do the talking.

Thank God one of the iconic moments of Olympic history was not marred by the shrieks and whoops of the clueless clowns Ed Leigh and Tim Warwood who, if I had my way, would never be heard again on the BBC.

A CONTRAST to Yvette Cooper’s rare humility was provided by her boss Ed Miliband when he said that he would govern like Margaret Thatcher.

Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? Wobbly Ed could not have got it more wrong – he’s being laughed at by Tories and has offended many of his own traditional supporters who never understood Thatcherism.