In the past few days it has become increasingly difficult to tell what the Number 10 strategy is for responding to the floods. As one Tory MP remarked to me earlier, ‘there is a whiff of the Hurricane Katrina about Number 10’s handling of the floods. It’s the inconsistency of government comms and policy. First it was the Environment Agency’s fault, then rain, then the EU, then EA again. The the Army were helping, then not, then were. Then Pickles arses it on Sunday and ministers start falling out!’
Eric Pickles gave a sarcastic interview to the Mail on Sunday this weekend in which he said Chris Smith ‘has to make his own decision’ and ‘I don’t see myself becoming the advocate of the “Save Chris Smith” campaign or printing “Save The Environment Agency One” T-shirts’. Then Owen Paterson was reported to have complained ‘in the strongest possible terms’ to the Prime Minister about Pickles’ comments. Today, Pickles both defended the Environment Agency and managed to tell the Commons that he and Paterson were ‘two brothers from a different mother’:
‘Now with regard to the Environment Agency, it is entirely wrong for the honourable lady to suggest for one moment that I have issued even the slightest criticism of the marvellous workforce of the Environment Agency. My admiration for the work of the Environment Agency exceeds no-one and I believe it is time for us to work together and not to make silly party political points. And I am confident that with the help of the Environment Agency, the armed forces and the good work of local councils, that is exactly what we will do.’
It’s worth pointing out, though, that Pickles didn’t rush to praise Chris Smith as a brother from another mother at any point. But either way, the story about the floods has become as much about bickering between ministers and quango chiefs as it has about the waters themselves, and as Pickles said, those floods aren’t going anywhere soon: more are on the way.
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