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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 July 2007, 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK
Martha Kearney's week
By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

David Cameron in Rwanda
What was Mr Cameron looking for on his African visit?

So often it is the unexpected which catches politicians out.

Who would have thought that floods in Witney would have caused David Cameron so much difficulty?

The contrast between pictures of the Conservative leader in dusty Rwanda and the waterlogged images of Oxfordshire couldn't have been more stark.

A low moment must have been being questioned by a reporter from Rwandan TV about whether he'd have been better off staying at home.

The real reason that Mr Cameron faced so much flak is because his political stock is low at the moment after the Ealing Southall by-election in which the Tories came third.

On Monday we interviewed the constituency vice-chair Gabrielle Joyce who told us she'd been shocked by having a candidate imposed upon them and that the idea of putting "David Cameron's Conservatives" on the ballot paper was "gimmicky".

While she believed that the trip to Rwanda was a good idea, Mrs Joyce told us that he might have been better off staying at home defending his parliamentary position.


But interestingly there was very little public criticism from MPs and even off the record few were willing to brief against Mr Cameron.

Some may have been reassured by his decision to raise the EU referendum at prime minister's questions.

There seems no appetite for a contest, despite rumours of letters to the chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Michael Spicer. The summer recess will dampen down any potential plots.

But particularly damning was the criticism in The Spectator by Charles Moore, the former Editor of the Daily Telegraph: "It reinforced an unfortunate impression, which Mr Brown is trying to foster, that Mr Cameron is the political equivalent of a gap-year student - amiable, well-meaning, inexperienced, paid for by his parents; nice, yes, serious, no."

David Cameron surveying floods
The Tory leader was criticised over his handling of the floods situation

In the opinion polls - including Yougov in the Telegraph - the Brown bounce appears to have continued but I have begun to wonder whether the flood chaos may begin to impinge on the Brown honeymoon.

The prime minister has identified himself very personally with the relief operation and made great play of that to embarrass Mr Cameron in the Commons.

So if the chaos continues and water supplies fail to get through, then he will get the blame. Look out for Bowsergate.

The first month of the Brown government has gone pretty much according to a long-laid plan but you can guarantee that floods weren't in the grid and delivery on this issue will be vital for Mr Brown's credibility.

Bloated cows

I can remember that the government seemed pretty calm during the first days of the foot and mouth crisis, with much play made of COBRA meetings.

That soon changed with bloated corpses of cows filling our screens. I can remember having a heated discussion with a Number 10 aide late one night in Downing Street about ulcers in sheep's mouths. More tales of the unexpected.

This week the prime minister's efforts to draw a line under the Blair years have continued with a review on 24-hour drinking following the U-turns on casinos and cannabis reclassification.

It will be much harder for Gordon Brown to distance himself on Iraq.

On Thursday I interviewed the Chief of Defence Staff Sir Jock Stirrup.

He said that Basra should be handed over to Iraqi control by the end of the year and said that he expected a decision to be taken in the next couple of months.

That is later than predicted by Des Browne and Margaret Beckett last year - they said the handover would probably take place in the spring.

Sir Jock also hinted that more troops would have to be sent to Afghanistan in the future. It all adds up to a sense that British commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan will last longer than anticipated dogging Gordon Brown just as much as Tony Blair.

David Cameron made a visit to Lincoln on 20th July to meet flood victims from the earlier deluge. He did not patronise or seek to elevate the situation but was sincere and reflective. The E Midlands Minister has yet to achieve any Government support for Lincoln's flood victims. Perhaps the Government only recognises opportunity for news rather than substance.
John Metcalfe, Lincoln

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