First the floods and now foot and mouth, Gordon Brown hasn’t been too lucky so far. Even if you allow that he hasn’t made a hash of the management of the various crises, no premier wants events like these, either in absolute terms or because they crowd out the government’s own agenda from the political airtime. If people are talking about towns being underwater or farmers losing their livelihoods then they aren’t talking about the things government thinks are important, which means you aren’t exercising the great advantages of government in the setting of he political agenda.
There is also another characteristic of the recent biblical plagues than have been visited on England; in both cases there has been a connection to some government funding decision or another. In the case of the floods there was actually a cut to the Environment Agency’s budget last year, while the run-down and underfunded state of the government research lab that is suspected as the source for the foot and mouth outbreak was highlighted in a report some years ago. As the purse strings for the last ten years have been controlled by one G. Brown, it hasn’t taken long for commentators to ask if the new PM bears a measure of responsibility for some of the recent suffering. This illustrates a strategic problem for Labour. While many people were heartily sick of Tony Blair, it is difficult to advance Gordon Brown as a break with the past when he has been so pivotal to government decision-making for a decade. Not a sparrow falls that cannot be linked to treasury policy at some point in the past. This doesn’t just apply to disasters, but to more mundane policy on schools, education and the NHS. The last couple of weeks may have accelerated the process, but Gordon may end up being blamed for everything.