Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

David Cameron was in a tight spot because of the floods. He had arranged to address the Rwandan parliament, and this fitted with his wish to proclaim his welcome interest in development issues and his party's new document on the subject.

He could not convincingly have told the Rwandans that the rains forced him to stay in Britain. And yet his absence has been a mistake. 'Middle England', as well as being a political concept, is a geographical reality, and this week half of it has been under water. It was a unique moment when the leader of the opposition could have been visibly helping -- getting wet, getting muddy on the ground while Gordon Brown was safely in the skies above, getting coverage. In among the sandbags, Mr Cameron could have raised whatever issues he thought fit about housing, emergency services, flood defences and so on.

He could have embodied that combination of humorous patience and mild grumbling which the English like so much. True, he did visit his own inundated constituency at the weekend, but by the time the waters were at their height, he was on a plane for Africa. This allowed Mr Brown to get away with various banalities unchallenged. And it reinforced an unfortunate impression, which Mr Brown is trying to foster, that Mr Cameron is the political equivalent of a gap-year student -- amiable, well-meaning, inexperienced, paid for by his parents; nice, yes, serious, no.

Floods often provide material for a sermon.

The recent ones in the north, precursor to the present horrors, prompted the Bishop of Carlisle to suggest that they were a punishment for sin. Such an idea has plenty of scriptural authority in general, but it is hard to see it in the particular. Take this week. What iniquity is there in Tewkesbury which means it should suffer while Soho, say, stays dry? What (now that Fred West is dead) is peculiarly vicious about Gloucester? The point about the original Flood was that it reflected God's dissatisfaction with the whole of mankind, and indeed with the whole of the earth, because it was corrupt and 'filled with violence'. God drowned every human being and every animal except the family of Noah -- because Noah was 'a just man' -- and those birds and beasts selected by him. But if Mr Cameron had stayed behind and put his hand to the pump in Abingdon or Little Wittenham, he would have been in a strong position to make the environmental points that are the modern substitute for religion. After the Flood, God put a rainbow in the cloud to symbolise his new covenant 'with you [Noah], and with your seed after you; / And with every living creature that is with you.' Mr Cameron could have turned this story about man's stewardship of the earth into a neat little homily appropriate to his 'Vote blue, go green' campaign.

Perhaps the most human reaction to environmental disaster is contained in the new Simpsons film. There, I gather, all those in Mo's bar rush off to church. At the same time, all those in church rush off to Mo's bar.

Wewere glad of the weather when we returned last week from a journey round eastern Europe. The temperature in our last stop, Prague, was about 100infinity F. But Heathrow made sure that any pleasure evaporated at once. There was nowhere for our plane to dock. Then, when a distant stand was found, we were told that we could not approach it because there was no one to guide us in. …

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