by Jonathan Todd
Number 10 has long wished to minimise media coverage of backbench rebellions to maximise airtime on economic recovery. Hence, Cameron’s concessions to his backbenches. But members of the government have needlessly distracted media focus from economic recovery. For example, Michael Gove picking another fight with Ofsted and the failure of government whips to have any women on the frontbench for PMQs.
These own goals confirm that Labour is not up against a crack operation. The floods, in contrast, are a crisis that Cameron’s government would have had to confront even if he’d run a tighter ship. They are, obviously, a crisis for the people whose homes are underwater. The nature of the political crisis that they represent for Cameron and what they reveal about his government is more contested.
By announcing that ‘money is no object’, according to Jonathan Freedland, the prime minister has performed the last rites on the notion of inevitable austerity. The prime minister’s words constitute an incredible hostage to fortune and a risk that he didn’t need to take. The careless political slips of his government begin at the top.
Reflecting on his time near the top of the last government, Patrick Diamond recently noted: “Policy is increasingly about resolving trade-offs accentuated by financial constraints and fiscal austerity”. Cameron, though, leaves no room for trade-offs. No matter how bad the floods get, irrespective of whatever ill-considered building decisions may have been made, in spite of whomever may be at fault, public money is still supposedly no object.
In a world of scarcity, as this world inevitably is, the prime minister’s remark is vulgarly illogical. It’s not – pace Freedland – that there is money when Cameron previously said there isn’t. It’s that this money has limits. Resources are finite. Governments must, consequently, decide how to allocate these resources to best effect. In this sense, trade-offs are even more fundamental than Diamond argues.