Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The surreal world of ‘disaster’ politics


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The Independent Online


David Cameron cancels a trip to Middle East, dons a suspiciously new looking pair of wellies and tours flood ravaged England.

Ed Miliband cancels a trip to India, dons a suspiciously new looking pair of wellies and follows suit. Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson also get in on the act.

Welcome to the surreal world of ‘disaster’ politics where it’s not enough for our leaders to do something – but they also have to be seen to be doing something.

It would be a fair criticism to make that it is the media who are responsible for this trend as politicians fear of being lambasted for ‘not caring’ about the ‘plight’ of England’s ‘forgotten flood victims’ if they don’t show face. Personally speaking I think they’ve gone too far.

Meanwhile, Britain is today hosting the world’s largest ever conference on the illegal wildlife trade. It will bring together 50 heads of state and ministers in an attempt to stem the illegal trade in elephant ivory and Rhino tusks which threatens to decimate those species.

Until yesterday David Cameron was due to attend, give an opening speech and be on hand to exhort, corral and pressure the countries attending to take the issue seriously.

But not any more. Downing Street said yesterday that Mr Cameron will greet some delegates as they arrive, but he has to concentrate on the handling of the flood relief effort.

That is a mistake. The whole Government machine is now focused on the floods when there is only so much the Prime Minister can usefully do. That is not true of today’s summit.

You can’t help but feel that Mr Cameron is jeopardising its success for the sake of how his attendance will go down in the flood-ravaged, Tory supporting Home Counties.

He is under-estimating the sophistication of voters – if not the media.