Tom Richmond: Reputation of David Cameron is sunk by floods and political ‘spin’

David Cameron meets soldiers in York who assisted with the city's flood relief effort. He was criticised for not meeting victims of the floods.
David Cameron meets soldiers in York who assisted with the city's flood relief effort. He was criticised for not meeting victims of the floods.
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DAVID Cameron has clearly learned one lesson from the Yorkshire floods – he has decided that he needs a new ‘deputy spokesperson’ at his beck and call.

This is the only conclusion which can be drawn from the 10 Downing Street job description for this all-singing all-dancing ‘spin doctor’, a role that will command a taxpayer-funded salary of up to £117,800.

The advertisement says – quite reasonably – that “the demands of the post are high” and that candidates will need to meet the following five criteria:

1 ‘First-rate news judgment under pressure’.

It clearly rankles that the PM’s business guru, Sir Philip Dilley, had to resign as the part-time chairman of the Environment Agency following media pressure after it emerged that he was sunning himself in the West Indies as rivers burst their banks in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. Applicants must, therefore, possess a crystal ball and be able to foresee embarrassing holiday arrangements.

2 ‘A strong grasp of the wider media and political context in which the Government operates’.

Dear, dear, dear. Why didn’t anyone think to tell ‘Call Me Dave’ that he would face criticism of a North-South divide after approving a major £300m flood defence project for his home patch in the Thames Valley in 2014 three years after a £197m scheme in Leeds, one of the UK’s largest cities, was scrapped?

3 ‘Experience of taking a strategic approach to communications messages and campaigns’.

I sense Downing Street now conclude, and as I warned in this column many weeks before the floods, that Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss is totally out of her depth and has lost
the political and public argument
over the funding of flood prevention schemes.

4 ‘The risk management and crisis communications skills needed to avoid pitfalls and fight fires’.

I can explain this – it will be down to the successful applicant, good luck to them because they will need it, to arrange carefully choreographed photo-calls between Mr Cameron and flooding victims who will not ask awkward questions. The Tory leader is still scarred by his encounter with an indignant Kathleen Simpson in Todmorden in the summer of 2012 when she saw through his platitudes.

5 ‘An understanding of, and ideally good experience of, the use of digital media as part of your media execution’.

Ignore this jargon, this simply requires the postholder to update the PM’s Twitter feed which has made no mention of flood recovery operations since December 28 when he, or a lackey, posted: “I’ll ensure that like Cumbria & Lancashire, Yorkshire will get more of the protection needed to deal with floods.”

These three areas are still waiting for the Government to fulfil the promises made by David Cameron, Elizabeth Truss or Robert Goodwill, the newly-appointed ‘flooding envoy’.

However, it will not happen if Mr Cameron tries to ‘spin’ his way out of deep water with meaningless gestures rather than actually constructing a new policy framework which, it is hoped, will spare many homes and businesses from the misery suffered by so many.

Presumably, he already knew that the Environment Secretary, who regards the North as an irritating inconvenience, was preparing to tell Leeds MPs and civic leaders that there was no money for a new feasibility study into a major flood defence scheme for the West Yorkshire city because her six-year budget did not include any contingency funding.

After all, it is indicative of the PM’s limited attention span that he chose not to meet flooding victims, or host a summit looking at the lessons being learned in Yorkshire, when he visited Leeds on Monday to announce a new £20m scheme to persuade more Muslim women to learn English.

Given the growing gulf between the Government’s rhetoric and the actual reality on the flooding front line, I can only presume that no one thought to tell David Cameron that this would have been the correct and responsible course of action.

Yet shouldn’t the Prime Minister be able to take such decisions for himself? It is called leadership – and it is also good public relations. And he should know.

TALKING of Tory complacency, Small Business Minister Anna Soubry – a lawyer – clearly does not understand the importance of trying to save the last remnants of the UK steel industry.

When hundreds of job losses were announced in Port Talbot on Monday before Sheffield Forgemasters announced 100 redundancies, she was offering the same excuses – cheap imports from China and EU rules on state aid – that were put forward when Redcar’s steelworks closed last October.

If the EU is the problem, why hasn’t David Cameron included this in his renegotiations with Brussels?

It’s the same with the dredging of rapidly-rising rivers. If this can make communities less susceptible to flooding, why should the wishy-washy whims of the EU green green brigade take precedence?

As the truth emerges about Mr Cameron’s half-baked and half-hearted renegotiation, I’m afraid it will become harder for him to convince Britons to vote to stay in this cosy club.

JEREMY Corbyn continues to espouse the theme of ‘fairness’. Yet the Leader of the Opposition does not explain what is fair about the low-paid continuing to subsidise the bone idle and those who
do not know the meaning of the word ‘work’.

In many respects, this is far more revealing about Labour’s electoral predicament than any analysis about the fallibility of the opinion polls. Labour’s fate was sealed by the collapse of its vote in Scotland, as predicted, and the Tories prospering from the disintegration of the Lib Dems. It had nothing to do with the opinion polls and there is, in fact, a case for them being banned from future elections so the focus can shift to policy.

I KNOW there are some who think England fast bowler Stuart Broad can do no wrong following his match-winning exploits in South Africa but I’m not one of them. To me, he will always be “Broad the fraud” for refusing to walk after edging a ball to slip during the 2013 Ashes Test at Trent Bridge. It’s very sad that the so-called gentleman’s game no longer places any sort of premium on sportsmanship and fair play which once went to cricket’s core.