Cameron flooding
Prime Minister David Cameron has visited flood-ravaged SomersetCrown Copyright

With the UK's floods worsening by the day, the government has descended into a bitter bitter blame game with senior ministers and officials criticising each other in public as they attempt to avoid carrying the can for the crisis.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson, who is away from his desk recovering from an eye operation, is said to be furious that stand-in minister Eric Pickles has blamed the Environment Agency for the disaster, and has fired off a letter to the prime minister complaining about Pickles' "grandstanding".

The head of the agency, Labour peer Chris Smith, has hit back insisting that, while some mistakes may have been made, the reaction to the floods had been massively hampered by government spending cuts.

And workers in the agency have demanded an apology from Pickles for attempting to "scapegoat" them when they were operating under government cuts.

Meanwhile, the unedifying finger-pointing has seen residents and businesses who are struggling to cope with the unprecedented crisis and bracing themselves for more, demanding that prime minister David Cameron gets a grip on his ministers

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have expressed anger and frustration at what looks like a determined political attempt to keep any blame well away from ministers and 10 Downing Street.

Labour's Maria Eagle said, at a time when flood waters were rising, it was "unbelievable that ministers have descended into this blame game".

And deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: "I do not think now is the time to point the finger of blame."

Meanwhile the prime minister has attempted to rise above the squabbling and appear to be in charge of the response by taking control of the daily Cobra emergency committee meetings and visiting the worst hit areas to ensure "everything that can be done is done".

But there was clear annoyance from Downing Street that ministerial squabbling was marring the government's response, with the prime minister's spokesman attempting to suggest it was being whipped up by the media.

He did not deny Cameron had received a letter from Paterson criticising Pickles, but attempted to calm the issue, stating: "there is not a difference between Eric Pickles and Owen Paterson on the response to the flooding."

He repeated Pickle's weekend apology for "mistakes", specifically over lack of dredging in the Somerset Levels, but did not echo the minister's attempt to blame the Environment Agency for giving bad advice.

The row started when Pickles laid the blame for the floods squarely at the door of the agency and Smith for giving "wrong advice" over dredging.

But Smith has hit back saying: "When I hear someone criticising the expertise and the professionalism of my staff who know a hundred times more about flood risk management than any politician ever does, I am afraid I am not going to sit idly by.

"The agency is bound by the rules that are laid down by government. When someone says they followed the agency's advice, what they were actually doing was following the Treasury rules which are laid down," he said.

The agency had made £400,000 available last year for dredging, which he said was the maximum amount allowed by the government, but the Treasury and other organisations had not provided similar sums to enable the work to go ahead.

It is now clear that this floods crisis, which is having a devastating effect on thousands of people's lives and ability to make a living, is escalating into a full-blown political crisis as well with desperate attempts by those at the centre of it to avoid any blame.

There is a real danger for the prime minister that, unless he gets a grip on his squabbling ministers, the fallout will start to damage his own leadership credibility.