IN his biography of the Queen marking her Golden Jubilee, biographer Robert Hardman recounts a conversation which took place with her private secretary, Lord Martin Charteris. Asked whether she had any regrets over her reign, Charteris reportedly answered: “Aberfan.”

One hundred and forty four people died in the Aberfan mining disaster in 1966 when a landslide of muddy coal waste collapsed and engulfed Pantglas Junior School, killing 116 children. Lord Charteris acknowledged that his advice to the Queen not to visit the Welsh village in the immediate aftermath of the disaster served her poorly. “We told her to stay away until the preliminary shock had worn off,” he said. “We got it wrong.” It took eight days before the Queen visited the bereaved whereupon she wept in public for the first time as she visited the hospital and went to tea with a family who had lost several members in the tragedy.

Over recent days Boris Johnson has faced criticism for remaining in the Foreign Secretary’s Chevening country estate in Kent rather than visiting regions including Cumbria, Yorkshire, the Midlands and South Wales following the impact of Storms Ciara and Dennis over consecutive weekends. The Prime Minister’s public inaction stands in stark contrast to his visible and energetic response to extreme weather during last year’s general election campaign, during which he visited flood-affected areas, demonstrated his inability to mop the floor of a washed out business in front of the cameras and held COBRA meetings in response to severe flooding in Yorkshire and the East Midlands.

The absence of the Prime Minister is becoming increasingly noticeable with each passing day. Others have managed it. Prince Charles has visited South Wales, meeting council staff and emergency service workers alongside business owners whilst Jeremy Corbyn met flood-damaged home owners in Rhydyfelin near Pontypridd.

No one would expect a visiting Prime Minister to turn up with an immediate answer to extreme weather or a quick fix to its impact. But surely they would be right to expect their leader to be present, not least to show compassion.

Compassion literally means “to suffer alongside”. For priests this often means being with those who are in the midst of suffering. Not to provide easy answers but to sit with people in their despair or misery and be alongside them. To accompany people in the midst of their grief is a humbling privilege as is the opportunity to journey with them through those difficult times.

In 2016, on the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster, the Queen sent a personal message to the people of the village where she wrote of her memory of her visit. She ended the message by saying: “Since then, we have returned on several occasions and have always been deeply impressed by the remarkable fortitude, dignity and indomitable spirit that characterises the people of this village and the surrounding valleys. On this saddest of anniversaries, I send my renewed good wishes to you all.”

St Paul’s letter to the Romans instructs them to “rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn.” Our political leaders are often quick to claim credit in times of triumph. They should also have the equal agility to stand alongside those in times of tragedy.