Labour has been running behind the Conservatives in British popularity polls, though lately the Tories have been fading a bit. But that was before a record-breaking and determined blast of cold and snow descended on the Sceptered Isle, and before the taciturn Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, failed to find the weather very invigorating.
Mr. Brown’s reported response is a classic: “I think Britain can deal with these problems. There are always difficulties when we have a long spell of bad weather. But we can cope.”
That may not be exactly what people want to hear, however. The U.K. is in the one of the worst winters in a century. Local governments are running out of “grit” to put on roads. The National Grid energy authority has warned that gas supplies are running low. People are losing income because they cannot get to work. Businesses are hurting. Some lives are being lost. What a leader needs to do in a situation like that is to show personal involvement.
Of immediate concern is that later today the U.K. may be getting still more snow. That, not political responsibility for governmental inadequacies, is what is on people’s minds.
Nonetheless, looking ahead, one might observe that freezing weather has put more than one political career on ice in America, and the same might happen in the U.K. The powerful Mayor of Chicago, Michael Bilandic, was defeated in a Democratic primary election in 1979 after his perceived inattention to a stiff blizzard a few months earlier. Something similar happened to Greg Nickels, an otherwise politically well-situated Mayor of Seattle, who endured criticism after the Emerald City was shut down for several days during a December, ’08 storm. He failed, though only narrowly, to survive a primary election challenge late the next summer.
Water, if not ice, damaged the re-election chances of George W. Bush when the President was slow to react strongly to Hurricane Katrina.
These are American examples, of course, but human nature and democracies share much in common on both sides of The Pond.
Maybe Gordon Brown should take a turn shoveling snow.