London woke to a picture-postcard dusting of snow this morning, as did much of England and Wales. Most councils in the capital had gritted roads over the weekend in anticipation of this cold snap and, for the large majority of commuters, the journey to work was much the same as any gloomy winter Monday.
However, elsewhere in the country, the picture is less agreeable.
Scotland has already seen significant falls and the Met Office has issued alerts for the north-east and eastern England.
This happens every year; you could almost call it seasonal… Yet, in spite of years of practice, politicians still find themselves incredibly unstuck by inclement weather. Across the pond, many commentators highlighted former President Bush’s catastrophic mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina as one of the larger nails in the Republicans’ snugly fitting electoral coffin. However, President Obama’s handling of Super-storm Sandy just before the most recent US elections, where he suspended political rivalries and drew praise from opponents, actually had a positive effect. The President, who appeared to temporarily misplace his composure and oratorical skills during the first televised debate with his counterpart, was shown around the world doing what he is perceived to do best – acting in a calm and statesmanlike manner and being, well, Presidential.
In the UK every winter the media plays the annual blame game when roads become icy, pavements turn into deadly toboggan runs and railway services grind to an embarrassing halt. In our small maritime country, we don’t really get ‘big’ weather like our US cousins, but that doesn’t stop the media from jumping on the ‘winter woes’ bandwagon. Councils are lambasted for failing to prepare/clear/resurface the roads and Network Rail is pilloried for blaming the ‘wrong kind of snow’. Politicians have to tread a very fine line between acknowledging the disruption and delays faced by thousands of angry travellers (and in what are thankfully in this country a very few cases, offering condolences when delay and disruption turn to personal tragedy) and not taking responsibility for these ‘Acts of God’ (or ‘nature’, if you’re Nick Clegg) or even worse taking ‘the blame’.
When politicians slip off that icy tightrope, the results can be catastrophic. Two years ago, the then Scottish Transport Minister spectacularly misjudged the severity of weather conditions in central Scotland (the country’s busiest roads were closed, including the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh) and the severity of the populace’s annoyance. The backlash against him in both traditional media and on social media was so great he felt compelled to resign, despite the vocal support of Scotland’s First Minister.
As the UK prepares for more wintry weather and as climatologists suggest we will continue to experience more extreme weather events, politicians will need to be increasingly on the lookout for meteorological slip-ups. Let’s hope someone’s been out with the gritter beforehand.