Any estate agent worth their salt will tell you that the secret of a good property investment is “location, location, location”. The same is perhaps even more true of political interventions, which is why Prime Minister David Cameron got it so badly wrong last Friday with his keynote speech on Scotland.
The speech in itself was good. It was positive, it appealed to all parts of the UK. It summed up much that is good about the union of kingdoms. But there is a basic rule of thumb when it comes to making a speech about Scotland, or for that matter Wales, or one of the English regions – you don’t make it from London, the city which, rightly or wrongly, sums up everybody’s prejudices about a Westminster elite and over-centralised power.
But actually there was a far more pressing political reason why Mr Cameron should not have been making a major speech in London about an event which is still seven months away.
Much of the south of England is now under water in some of the worst flooding for generations and it has become apparent to those who live in those communities that they have long since been abandoned by the government and the Environment Agency in terms of defences, and the speed with which they have reacted to the disaster has made the average garden snail look turbo-powered.
All week in the daily Downing Street briefings, Mr Cameron’s spokesman was asked when he would be going to Somerset. Somehow he always seemed to have been busy.
To the chagrin of those whose homes have been destroyed, it turned out that the Prime Minister was busy talking about Scotland in London on Friday. The south-west of England is full of Tory and Lib Dem marginals, and a lack of interest tends to stick in people’s minds for generations.
There is a sense that government is sometimes inflexible to the great grid on the Downing Street wall.
Perhaps when choosing a location, the Prime Minister should have taken a hint from Labour Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar in last week’s Commons debate on Scottish independence.
He said: “We all remember when the Royal Bank of Scotland was in trouble and needed bailing out, and taxpayers from across the UK stepped in to help, with no questions asked and no IOUs demanded.
“We see today the tragic circumstances across parts of England resulting from flood damage.”
On that basis, Mr Cameron perhaps should have given his Friday speech on Scotland knee-deep in water in Somerset, shifting sandbags, with Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael by his side, reminding all parts of the UK why it is better to stand together.