Cobra meeting
Prime minister chairs a Cobra meeting on the government's response to flooding Getty

When David Cameron pledged "money is no object" to tackle Britain's unprecedented floods crisis it was understood he meant that all necessary funding would be available for both immediate relief from the deluge as well as longer-term repair and recovery.

But only hours after his "I'm in control" press conference, ministers were insisting there was "no blank cheque", amid suggestions that Cameron had landed himself with a major political problem.

The severe weather is set to intensify over coming days, with gales threatening to add to the misery and the ground so saturated it cannot drain away any fresh downpours. There is a real sense of anxiety, if not panic, in Westminster as politicians on all sides face the real prospect of continuing events way beyond their control.

I don't think it's a blank cheque. I think what the prime minister was making very clear is that we are going to use every resource of the government and money is not the issue while we are in this relief job.
- Patrick McLaughlin

Cameron has warned that the crisis will last for months and there are real fears it may start to hit economic recovery as businesses and agriculture are affected and much normal activity stalls, particularly if it has an impact on the summer holiday season.

The prime minister's promises of extra money also threaten to undermine the government's austerity message, particularly if the Treasury has to open its coffers to meet huge bills for months to come.

But it now appears that is not what he was indicating. Transport secretary Patrick McLaughlin has specifically ruled out "blank cheques" for transport repairs and, it appears, any spending will come from existing departmental underspends - £60m in his case.

"I don't think it's a blank cheque. What the prime minister was making very clear is that we are going to use every resource of the government and money is not the issue while we are in this relief job, in the first instance, of trying to bring relief to those communities that are affected," he said.

That money is still cash that chancellor George Osborne would rather have pocketed for use in his budget next month but which is now denied to him and which must have sent him back to the budget drawing board.

So all ministers, from Cameron down, will now face questions over exactly what is meant by "money is no object".

For the moment, Cameron has succeeded in his main aim of showing he has a firm grip on the crisis and that he is devoting his full attention to it – even to the extent of cancelling much other government business including foreign missions.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has also postponed a planned trip to India for fear of a public backlash if he appears to be out of the country when it is gripped by a genuine crisis.

And it is certainly the case that a crisis on this scale can make or break a leader's credibility and standing with voters.

Cameron will be hoping that he has shown just the sort of leadership, control and competence that the public are looking for and that it has not all come a bit too late and will not be undermined by the political challenges he has set himself.