SubScribe: Let our leaders have their holidays in peace Google+

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Let our leaders have their holidays in peace

The chillax crisis: Cameron is perfectly capable of picking up a phone - these are just the politics of envy


How was your bank holiday weekend? Hours in traffic jams? Soaking up the sun in the garden? A last-minute getaway to the Continent? Or were you stuck in the office?
And today? Are you back at work or slowly getting used to being with the family over half-term?

If the latter is the case, then good for you. You clearly have your work-life balance sussed. And that, as  the press frequently tells us through social surveys, pseudo-scientific research and opinion columns, is essential. Not only for our own well-being, but for business and the country as a whole.

What hypocrisy!

Our newspapers are brilliant at prescribing desirable approaches to work, health and homelife - but they are scathing should any leader in any sphere follow such advice. (Just as they pontificate about business practices that they wouldn't dream of adopting themselves.)

It is unlikely that any national newspaper editor was in the office on Sunday to oversee the production of yesterday morning's papers. Yet we can be sure that there will have been a series of telephone calls through the day to monitor progress - with the duty editor before morning conference, update chats with the newsdesk, discussions about picture choices through the afternoon, thoughts about the splash heading come the evening. They may even have been looking at the paper through a remote online connection and be emailing thoughts about every page as it developed.

See, it's quite simple these days to run the show from a distance. Unless, it seems, you happen to be the Prime Minister. In which case you clearly have no access to telephone, internet, homing pigeon or cleft stick.

Journalists have to work on bank holidays - even, thanks to Rupert Murdoch and the Wapping revolution, on Christmas Day. It is not a popular shift. Maybe this has something to do with newspapers' churlishness when anyone in the public eye dares to imagine that they are off duty.

The paparazzi were ahead of this game and Diana, of course, was the universal target. OK, she knew she would be snapped when she was walking out from the Chelsea Harbour Club, bottle of water in one hand, mobile and keys in the other. But as a mother, she didn't want the young princes harassed and so in a desperate attempt to earn some privacy,  the Waleses made a pact with the devil in the 80s.  The family would pose for photographs at the start of their holiday if they could then be left alone.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

It wasn't. It just established an awful tradition.  Before too long, politicians were also submitting to the First Day of the Holidays photocall. Yet the paps kept snooping with their long lenses and found that they now had a  market not only for a topless princess, but also for unflattering pictures of Cherie Blair's backside.

The Blairs in Tuscany. Photograph Daily Mail

Tony's penchant for exotic freebies brought the next development: the annual vox pop on where MPs were to spend their summer holidays. While the rest of us browsed through package tour brochures or planned the usual camping trip to Norfolk, ministerial aides would be poring over maps to find a destination that would send the right message. Never mind 'getting away from it all with the family', the holiday decision had become a political statement. And it was always wrong. (Unless you were Margaret Beckett, who was first teased, but later applauded for sticking with her caravan.)

In 2008 Gordon Brown and his family went to Southwold for a couple of weeks. They strolled on the beach, did the maize maze and visited Dingly Dell Pork. But it didn't really seem Gordon's kind of thing - perhaps the business suit  was the giveaway. We later learned from Andrew Rawnsley's biography that the holiday had been Sarah's idea,  to show that our dour man-of-the-Manse prime minister was in touch with Middle England - which he wasn't.

Brown chilling on Southwold beach. Photograph: Daily Telegraph

By now the holiday charabanc was veering out of control and we poor readers have been subjected to a bronzed Putin riding bareback, Nicolas and Carla frolicking on the shoreline and Angela Merkel  hill-walking. We have also, incidentally, seen the designs all these people choose for their Christmas cards.

Do we need to know any of this stuff? Isn't it time to give the people who run the world a break? Still you have to admire the chutzpah: in March the Telegraph ran a couple of photographs of Frau Merkel in her bathing suit with an accompanying story that read

Mrs Merkel was caught by the cameras as she had a private dip while holidaying with her husband at Hotel Miramare on the island famous for its thermal baths off the coast of Naples.

Yes, very private. Funny how often such pictures have captions that say the victim is 'enjoying a private moment..'

The headline and blurb on the web version of the story had a familiar ring:

Angela Merkel fails to escape eurozone crisis on Italian holiday 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have donned her bathing costume for a little relaxation on the Italian island of Ischia, but she has failed to escape the heat of the current eurozone crisis.

It is an immutable law of journalism that if a politician dares to go on holiday, they will be leaving behind a crisis. It also follows that there will be someone, somewhere willing to say that they should be back in the office, overseeing everything.

And so to Dave. Whatever you think of him as a prime minister, he hasn't had much luck with his holidays. He's constantly mocked for being an out-of-touch toff,  but then we jeer when he queues for a Ryanair flight.

His holiday wardrobe is scrutinised and his liking for navy blue T-shirts dissected - along, of course with Sam's outfits. Where would we have been if the Mail hadn't been on hand in Cornwall last August to tell us: 
The Prime Minister's wife wore a coat to keep warm as the sun failed to make an appearance for the August bank holiday 

Yesterday the paper's fashion focus was on footwear - Dave got it right for once with his flipflops while Sam chose strappy sandals over the white Birkenstocks she wore when they were in Ibiza a couple of years back. But the sartorial appraisals were a sideshow. The main issue was should the Prime Minister be in Ibiza at all, given the terrorism crisis - there's that word again - at home.

One person had no doubt on that one:

The Sun took a similar view in its splash:

David Cameron sips coffee on a carefree holiday in Ibiza - while back home the grieving family of soldier Lee Rigby visits his murder scene. 
The PM and wife sam relaxed at a beach-front bar on the Spanish isle yesterday.
In stark contrast, Lee's estranged wife Rebecca - mother of his two year old son Jack - wept as she clutched a Peppa Pig cuddly toy with a t-shirt proclaiming: 'Daddy's little buddy.'

The report goes on to quote one Labour MP - John Mann - and a couple of tweeters saying how outrageous it was that Cameron was not at work.

Melissa Kite went further on the Guardian website with a piece headlined 

David Cameron's relaxation may be his downfall 

The prime minister's sunshine holiday at a time of national crisis can only add to the Tory right's simmering resentment 

While one does not want to be begrudging, or insinuate that the PM does not deserve downtime, it is only stating facts to point out that not having had a holiday since Christmas is not exactly the definition of hardship these days...
But let us assume it is unfair to attack the prime minister for being out of touch because he can afford to take a family of five on a half-term foreign break. What really niggles is the rest of their explanation. It was all right for the PM to go on holiday days after Lee Rigby was murdered, the aides argued, because Cameron "had urged everyone to carry on as normal". 
To my mind, there is something vaguely distasteful about this. Downing Street should not be trying to make a virtue of a trip that really has nothing to recommend it apart from personal enjoyment. A still more potent puzzler is why Cameron is able to chill out on a beach this week. It seems that no matter what happens, be it European Union revolts or terror attacks, the briefing from No 10 is always the same: "The prime minister is relaxed."

 So we don't want a Prime Minister who is able to relax? Much better to have someone who is a bundle of nerves and can't sleep for worrying about the economy, Europe, gay marriage, let along the thought of a new terrorist threat?

In common with the Sun and the Mirror, the Telegraph splashed on Cameron being under fire - but from a different angle: for prematurely visiting MI5 to praise spies for their efforts, though it linked Woolwich and Ibiza for its front page illustration. 

The Times, Express and Independent all reported that the Camerons were on holiday, that Dave was still 'in charge', and all carried the obligatory note of disdain from at least one Labour MP. John Mann found voice in the Mail, Sun, Times and Telegraph, while Sarah Champion had her say in the Mail and Express

The one person quoted in every paper was Nadine Dorries, the 'celebrity' Tory who has recently been allowed back in from the jungle. It was ridiculous to condemn the Prime Minister for taking time off, she said. "I actually want him to be refreshed. We have got the internet, we've got mobile phones. I think he is entitled to a holiday.' 

It comes to something when Nadine Dorries shines out as a beacon of common sense. 

For heaven's sake. David Cameron is the father of three young children. When they are on holiday from school, they need him to be around as much as possible. As a former colleague tweeted at the weekend: 

Spot on there, Richard. On both counts. 

I want to know that there are people in control of the country. And I feel happier to know that the top man is away but contactable than I am seeing the likes of John Prescott and Peter Mandelson rushing around shouting 'I'm in charge' like Bruce Forsyth.

I do not need to know where the Prime Minister takes his family on holiday - unless it is in Assad's palace or on Patpong road. Nor do I care how many ministers are reluctantly supporting the British tourist industry. And I certainly don't need to see pictures, whether papped or posed. 

Just give us all a break.

1 comment:

  1. You're right - he deserves a break. It really irks me when the mass media start clamouring for Parliament to be recalled every time something out of the ordinary happens - riots on the streets etc - isn't that why we have a police force? Equally annoying I find are the PM quotes on showbiz stories. Do we really care what David Cameron thinks about David Beckham retiring? Or that Gordon Brown actually watched X Factor and was "thrilled" when Susan Boyle won. The media should do us all a favour and find some real news