Wellies off, gloves on. The party leaders greeted each other with forced displays of warmth and mutual esteem today. Outside, the gusts blew, the rivers rose and the heavens wept.
Floods dominated everything.
The PM has spent so much time with emergency committees that he’s adopted their can-do battlefield vocabulary. He talked of ‘Gold Commanders calling on military assets’ which is butch-speak for ‘squaddies with shovels being shouted at by Ruperts.’ Having sploshed around for ten days with flow-rate experts and sandbank architects he is also a world authority on flood management. The Thames, he declared, with Michael Fish-like gravity, ‘is expected to reach a second peak on Sunday or Monday.’ He also estimated the weight of all the water on the Somerset Levels: 65 million tons, (sounds a bit light to me).
Miliband was tempted to make political capital from the crisis. Yesterday Cameron vowed that ‘money is no object’ so Miliband asked if the bottomless pit could stretch to the reinstatement of 550 flood specialists threatened with redundancy by the Environment Agency.
Cameron dodged the question. Miliband returned to it, but only once. He was wary of appearing to spread division when unity is required. So Cameron accused him of spreading division when unity is required. An odd sight: Cameron scoring points by accusing Miliband of scoring points, even though he wasn’t. Point to Cameron.
Backbenchers were more shameless in pursuit of their pet projects. Eco-prophet and turbine saleswoman, Caroline Lucas, said that the endless downpours should force us to pay more attention to climate sabotage.
Many members from the sopping south-west were called. Gary Streeter stood up and breathlessly declared Devon and Cornwall ‘open for business!’
Up to a point, said Cameron. The small matter remains of rebuilding the amphibious London-Penzance railway as an exclusively terrestrial service.
A pair of Plymouth MPs weighed in on the topic of HS2. Too costly, they said, and very poorly routed. Might it not swing through the West Country on a little detour?
Torbay MP, Adrian Sanders, said that ‘over-sensationalising’ had led to cancelled hotel bookings. He suggested a big propaganda push to bring the tourist hordes flocking back to his doorstep. In other words, I’ve had a soaking and the government needs to buy me a nice fluffy towel.
With the storms ousting lesser issues, Cameron was robbed of the chance to boast about his fiscal achievements today. But for the first time in years he was spared the food-bank question.
The economy popped up, right at the close. Stephen Timms, one of Labour’s leading abacus-fiddlers, wanted to turn the recovery to his advantage. He lamented that ‘economic growth has been delayed by three years.’
This lit Cameron’s fuse. He accused Timms of amnesia. ‘He and his henchmen were in the Treasury when we lost 7 per cent of our GDP!’
That hit the spot. For Cameron at least. Nothing like a kick in the knackers delivered in the pub car-park after closing time.
The wonder is that Timms made such a miscalculation. Super-bright and slightly geeky, Timm is a tall, gangly chap with wide hips and an ornamental lisp. He always looks as if he’s just escaped from a production of Charlie’s Aunt. But a seasoned politico like him should have expected rough treatment from the prime minister.
Cameron is deficient in many things but he’s never short of a brutal slapdown.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.