Cameron takes charge of flood response

Engineers inspect a section of a mainline rail route swept away in Dawlish, Devon
Image caption The rail line between Exeter and Plymouth is expected to be out of action for weeks

"Whatever is required ...this government will help those families and get this issue sorted."

Those words from David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions were the clearest possible sign that he knows that he needs to be seen to be getting a grip on the fallout of the floods and the storms.

So too his decision to take the chair of today's COBRA emergency committee and to find £100m more of taxpayers money to spend on flood defences.

This belated rush to look in charge was forced by some pretty strong words of criticism.

It was a "tragedy" that "nothing happened for so long...There's nothing like a ...disaster to get people to start doing something."

They were uttered not by the leader of the opposition but by the Prince of the Countryside and the heir to the throne.

Ed Miliband joined in on Wednesday when he said that "many of those affected feel the government's response has been slow and that more could have been done sooner".

The problem the prime minister is belatedly trying to address is the anger felt by many in Somerset that they've been abandoned by the men in Whitehall.

The Environment Agency is led by a man - Lord Smith - who's enraged many by suggesting that he and his staff faced a difficult choice between protecting town or country and front rooms or farmland.

The people of Somerset seem clear what choice he made.

The popular view of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson - the man who forgot to take his wellies to Somerset - is best captured by the front cover of Private Eye which shows him underwater in full diving gear declaring "it's all under control".

It all reminds me of the beginning of the foot and mouth crisis which left Tony Blair struggling to dispel the impression that his government did not understand people who lived outside London and the big cities.

Back then Labour had relatively few voters living in the critical areas.

Now, the West Country is a key electoral battleground with the Conservatives needing to make gains there to have a chance of staying in power after 2015.

David Cameron knows he cannot afford people in the countryside to think he simply doesn't get it.

With a main train-line linking over 100 miles of the South West of England taken out of action for weeks and worse weather forecast to come, he knows things might be about to get worse not better.