UK floods 2: be careful what you sizzle


As my colleague Laura Shields has already noted, there was much to praise about the UK Prime Minister’s handling of the press conference in response to the rising flood waters along the banks of the Thames this week.


The PM initially said ‘money is no object’ for fighting the floods

But there were problems too – including the choice of which message David Cameron chose to sizzle, in order to focus attention on the most important thing he had to say.

In particular, I was struck by his claim that “money is no object” when it comes to the continuing relief effort, with a pledge to spend “whatever it takes” to ward off the extreme weather.

I must admit, I raised a quizzical eyebrow when I heard these quotes in the media. Really, I thought? An endless supply of money? Limitless funding? Not for the cash-strapped NHS or our children’s education, but for damp carpets in Didcot?

The trouble is, of course, it’s obviously not true. As Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary later clarified, there was “no blank cheque” to deal with the crisis.

Patrick McLoughlin leaving Downing Street

Patrick McLoughlin later said ‘there is no blank cheque’

And there lies the problem. Two competing bits of sizzle, both from the party in power, each contradicting the other. Our attention has been drawn by the dynamism of the language used, and once we’ve noticed it, we realise you can’t have it both ways.

Number 10 clearly realised this too. As a result of the confusion, Conservative Chief Whip Sir George Young sent an email to Tory MPs entitled ‘Line to take on money no object/blank cheque and flooding’ (a communication itself which was – rather appropriately, I thought – ‘leaked’).

All of which highlights not only the power of sizzle, but how important it is to sizzle the right message (and make sure you can back up what you are saying). Otherwise the fiery ideas you intend to convey can generate a torrent of criticism and end up making you sound rather, well, wet.

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