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WMN OPINION: Politicians will be judged on response to flooding crisis

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 19, 2014

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It is in times of crisis that leaders are really tested – and the conveyor belt of storms and extreme weather that have battered the country over the last few weeks have created a crisis of scale.

Here in the South West the main line rail link has collapsed into the sea.

It is estimated the collapse is costing the regional economy millions every day, and the Easter holidays – so crucial to the peninsula’s tourism businesses – loom. It is hoped the rail line may be fixed by then, but that’s not guaranteed.

In Somerset dozens of homes and hundreds of acres of farmland remain flooded. They are unlikely to fully recover for months.

There has been some debate as to whether our senior politicians were quick or slow to spot the opportunity – but when they did they descended on the South West in droves.

Prime Minister David Cameron did a two-day tour of South West storm spots, deputy PM Nick Clegg made it to Somerset, and both opposition leader Ed Miliband and UKIP supremo Nigel Farage were spotted – and photographed – getting their feet wet in the flood zones.

Despite their best efforts, the public response has been none too favourable. Headlines of the “wallies in wellies” variety have accompanied many of the pictures of the visits.

Latest opinion polls show that the Government’s handling of the crisis is likely to have an effect on next year’s general election.

Analysis by The Times shows that of the Tories’ 40 most marginal seats, 15 have been badly affected by the weather. Twelve of the LibDems most marginal have been storm lashed.

A Comres poll for ITV carried out this week showed a large drop in the number of people approving of the Government’s handling of the crisis. The Labour leader did not score highly either.

There is no doubt that the weather encountered by most of the UK, and particularly the South West, has been extreme. With its impact likely to be felt for months, there is do doubt how our politicians respond to the crisis will still be at the forefront of voters’ minds when they go to the polls next year.

And whether it be dredging the river beds on the Somerset levels, fixing the Dawlish mainline, or making real progress in the hunt for faster, more resilient rail links to the South West, it will be action rather than words that our politicians will be judged on.

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