Tonight there is another meeting of COBRA about the floods affecting the South of England most notably Somerset which remains largely under water. People are cut off from their homes, some even evacuated, there is transport chaos and power is down.
COBRA, which stands for the under-whelming Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, is a meeting, often chaired by the Prime Minister to address a crisis. Coming together over riots and acts of terrorism, the meeting brings government departments and key personnel around the table. And its aim? COBRA exists to display authority, give confidence to the public and crucially provide a solution. And therein lies the political problem. This is the tenth meeting of COBRA and the situation, a bit like the appalling weather, is still unabated.
There have been several weeks of Parliamentary questions, visits to the affected area (with lots of pointing at water) debates and committee hearings too. The crisis has been publicly fronted by; the Environment Secretary, Transport Secretary and the Communities and Local Government Secretary. Even the military was called in briefly for what looked like a PR stunt not of their making, only to be sent away again (although tonight it would seem the Marines are being drafted in). Today the Prime Minister, in what some may see as a snub to his colleagues, properly stepped in.
The money doesn’t appear to be the problem with promises that those affected will get ‘whatever they need’. The problem is one of ‘who’s in charge’ – as in addition to central and local government agencies once you throw-in private companies for railways and electricity decision-making crumbles.
This morning a deeply frustrated lady commented that she felt like a ‘refugee’ and that after decades of marriage the relentless water flooding their home and business meant it was the first time she had seen her husband cry.
One thing is clear, the longer this crisis goes on, and the more meetings that are held the less credibility COBRA and those who lead it will have for providing solutions to complex problems.