Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Put-upon Eric Pickles appears out of his depth over flooding comments
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt.
Monday 10 February 2014
Eric Pickles was sad. While he was trying to get on with ordering “sandbank programmes” here, deploying the Army there, critics on the opposition benches were making “silly party political points”, and indulging in a “rather pathetic game of ‘who’s to blame?’”.
This was something he would never do, of course. “It is entirely wrong for you to suggest… that I have issued even the slightest criticism of the marvellous workforce of the Environment Agency,” he rebuked the shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle. His admiration for the Agency’s work “exceeds no one”.
And is apparently brand new, since on Sunday he excused ministerial errors by saying “we perhaps relied too much on the Environment Agency’s advice” and that “we thought we were dealing with experts.” That had reportedly so enraged the Environment Secretary that he had written to Downing Street to complain.
But that was OK because he and Owen Paterson were “peas in a pod, brothers from a different mother.” (This was a surprising turn of phrase since it’s normally used by rather hipper dudes than the corpulent Communities Secretary, as in “Yo, brother from a different mother, what’s happenin?”) He was merely the “custodian of [Paterson’s] wishes.” For the sake of Paterson’s recovery, you hope he wasn’t watching this nonsense from his sickbed.
After a promsing-ish start on Thursday, this was not Pickles’ finest hour. His casual, bluff, and occasionally facetious approach is not ideal for a national emergency. Eschewing standard ministerial practice, he did not take any notes during the barrage of questions asked by Ms Eagle, who had dragged him to the Commons. But since he wasn’t especially keen on answering them, this was hardly surprising.
His bedside manner with the coalition’s anxious backbenchers consists of praising the physical or historic attributes of their stricken constituencies. The “beautiful town of Bradford Upon Avon” or “Brunel’s railway” through Dawlish (now wrecked) or the “beautiful part of the country” that is Tory MP Nick Gibb’s base of Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, he drooled, as if he was an English Tourist Board guide.
Anyway, “I’m not entirely clear what we get out of this afternoon,” he said a little tetchily at one point. Tory MP Nicholas Soames tried to elevate the tone by inviting him to agree that the “unstoppable force of nature humbles us all.” Pickles said he did, but you weren’t quite sure he meant it.
UK weather: Army scrambled as flooded Thames Valley sees record river gauges and cancelled train services – and it hasn’t even started raining yet
UK weather: Scientists say Government's obsession with deregulation and cost-cutting responsible for Somerset flooding
- 1 Rape threats, death threats and a police investigation after video poking fun at an Islamic Party in Malaysia goes viral
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
- 4 6-year-old writes ice cold Valentine's card to his stepmother
- 5 Syrian child photographed 'surrendering to camera because she thought it was a gun'
Rape threats, death threats and a police investigation after video poking fun at an Islamic Party in Malaysia goes viral
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising
Ohio Democrat Teresa Fedor speaks out during abortion debate to reveal she has been raped – and is interrupted by laughter from Republicans
Jeremy Clarkson to become 'special adviser on transport' to David Cameron
Exploding head syndrome: One-fifth of US college students suffer from ailment, study finds
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Katie Hopkins reported to the police for race hatred by Labour MP Simon Danczuk after tweet about Pakistani men
£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The ideal candidates will have ...
£22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£23000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing boutique prac...
£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...