In modern politics, crisis response is driven in large part by the rhythms of the media cycle. Staying on top of a story involves announcing enough initiatives and schemes to steer the narrative on a day by day basis.
A glance at this morning’s newslinks reveals this strategy in action. In response to the Calais crisis the Government has unveiled a clutch of measures, including evicting illegal migrants without court orders and jailing landlords who don’t police the migration status of their tenants.
Perhaps this will give Downing Street a couple of days’ breathing room, although Trevor Kavanagh’s furious column in today’s Sun (£) suggests not.
But tomorrow will bring fresh papers, with new space to fill. It seems a forlorn hope to expect the mounting chaos in Calais to stop furnishing good copy before the Government has exhausted its capacity for quick-fire reaction, especially with the so-called ‘silly season’ providing few distractions.
This wouldn’t be the first time that David Cameron has got into trouble by seeking quick, good press out of intractable problems – remember the woes about the Party’s unattainable net migration target during the last Parliament.
Beyond the immediate crisis response proposals, the Government’s plans are harder to pick out.
In yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and her French counterpart co-authored a piece which admitted that the only true solution was developing the home countries of migrants to the point where they didn’t want to come to Britain.
They also call for the EU do more to take ownership of the crisis and force gateway members such as Italy and Greece to get a grip.
Quite how such demands are going to be received from the nominally Eurosceptic British Government, which has opted out of pan-EU migration measures, is difficult to assess.
Meanwhile news that we have “smashed” 17 trafficking gangs is welcome, but “operations in the Mediterranean” sounds short of Michael Fallon’s bold proposals to tackle the problem at source and start policing the North African coast.
Of course, a summer of endless immigration coverage in the press need not be entirely to the Conservative Party’s disadvantage – it’s an uncomfortable subject for Labour, mired in a leadership election which demands prioritising the views of their highly liberal grassroots.
It may also provide a boost to the Eurosceptics, as Matthew d’Ancona fears in the Guardian, and give Cameron ammunition when negotiating important topics as freedom of movement and border control.
But it looks set to test the limits of the Blair-era instinct to try to manage a crisis by ‘winning’ the news grid on a day to day basis, often by mass-producing eye-catching announcements most of which were never acted upon.
Given the dire effect this headline-chasing has had on the way Britain is governed, forcing the Government to move beyond it may well be the greatest benefit of all.