Long life

The word ‘holiday’ has become a political taboo

Call it a 'break'. A 'period of repose'. Anything but hint you're having fun

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

It’s August in Tuscany, and the market towns are eerily quiet, presumably because most of their inhabitants are off on their summer holidays by the sea, in the mountains, or wherever. But there also seem to be fewer foreigners about than usual. Maybe they are lurking somewhere — in Florence or Siena probably — but what I do know is that there are no foreign political leaders spending their holidays in Italy this year. There was a time when they all came pouring in. Tony Blair came here year after year, usually freeloading as the guest of some grandee or other, earning much criticism within the Labour party as a result. But leaders of France and Germany came too, though more modestly, staying in hotels and paying their own way. David Cameron came to Tuscany with his family three summers ago and rented a villa (as had the French prime minister the year before) only a few miles from where I am now; but he hasn’t been back. Tuscany seems to have fallen out of fashion, but so, it turns out, have foreign holidays of any kind where political leaders are concerned.

This year the only non-Italian politician of any note to be vacationing in Tuscany is Ségolène Royal, France’s minister of ecology, who is however far better known as a former presidential candidate and mother of President François Hollande’s four children. But what of Hollande himself? He is holidaying only 30 minutes’ drive away from the Élysée Palace at La Lanterne, an official presidential residence at Versailles. He has also urged the members of his government to spend their vacations no more than two and a half hours away from Paris. Similar restraint is shared by almost all the leaders of western Europe. The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, is staying in his home region of Galicia, where he was born, and the same is true of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, though his home region just happens to be Tuscany. Angela Merkel did visit Italy briefly last month, though staying in the rather Germanic South Tyrol on the border with Austria; but for the rest of her summer holiday she will be in her cottage in the Uckermark in north-eastern Germany.


All this of course reflects the continuing economic crisis in Europe, in which nations suffering from low or no growth and high unemployment demand modesty and self-denial on the part of their political leaders. Even the word ‘holiday’ has become taboo in political circles. It is replaced by ‘break’ or ‘period of repose’ to suggest the necessity of a rest for overworked public servants; and this, politicians believe, shouldn’t be spent anywhere exotic or glamorous but ideally on home turf in the bosom of the family. Even in the boom times the Blair family had to spend a few days in the rainy West Country to compensate for their gallivanting abroad, just as Bill Clinton had to go camping with Hillary in the Wild West for similar reasons. (‘What if I fish and don’t catch anything?’ he nervously asked.) This year even Silvio Berlusconi will be having to do without his ‘bunga bunga’ parties at his villa in Sardinia, where in 2004 he lavishly entertained Tony and Cherie Blair, who later rapturously described in a magazine interview how ‘fireworks lit up the words “Viva Tony” and we all sang “Summertime” together’: the judicial authorities have ordered him to stay at home on the mainland.

So it seems that David Cameron is the only leader of a major west European country to have had a proper foreign holiday this year, even if he had to interrupt it with visits to Glasgow for the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games and to France and Belgium to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war. He has been with his family in Portugal, where he has found time to be photographed with his wife Samantha pointing appreciatively at dead fish in a fish market, a photo-opportunity he has seized on previous holidays abroad. I don’t know why he or his advisers think that dead fish will bolster his image: perhaps they are supposed to suggest healthy eating, or perhaps they are supposed to symbolise his opponents, Ed Miliband, for example, or Alex Salmond, whose name happens to resemble that of a fish?

In any case, Cameron is possibly the only west European leader apart from Merkel whose country has recovered enough economically to make a foreign holiday (even one actually described as such) seem to be acceptable.

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  • Kitty MLB

    Indeed Italians do indeed find the cities far too hot in the summer
    and overcrowded. Verona (beloved to me) and
    beautful at twilight becomes a tin of sardines as does everywhere
    else.The Dolomites and Swiss Alps will be quiet in comparison but
    a politician would dare not visit Switzerland.

    Now we have leaders treating holidays like a big photo shoot,
    look at me I’m normal as I walk along a beach, or sit in a cafe and now pointing at fish.
    Cameron would have looked at a Salmon and thought of Wee Alec
    and found a kipper and thought of the debonair Nigel.He would have found a jellyfish and thought of Milipede and then something
    slimy and thought of Cleggy..Oh is he really away.
    And after all that (whilst hiding behind dark glasses) Cameron would have taken the fish back to the villa and cooked it himself
    to be eaten with a chilled white wine…with no health warnings on the bottle.

  • Magnolia

    The dreadful dad holiday uniform of navy polo has been upgraded to a denim blue one with surprisingly excellent results.
    Men make the common mistake of thinking they look slimmer in dark clothing, which they do not, because a portly belly shows through any amount of separates and our PM does not look slim and trim but just looks normal.
    I would still favour a white shirt for style, perhaps a linen cotton mix with rolled up sleeves and even a Nehru or grandad collar with tail or hem out.
    The adventurous could try a blue chambray shirt which would suit the PM’s colouring.
    He’s also in the doo-doo for not recalling parliament but as long as the specials are working on it why worry?
    What else is there to do except look at dead fish in a nice climate?

    • dado_trunking

      Harry and Wills will sport a ‘portly belly’ one day, don’t you worry.
      Rolled up sleeves will hence look out of date and fashion.

      • Magnolia

        Prince Charles isn’t portly?
        Rolled up sleeves signify relaxation, summertime, playing sport or just working with your hands and that look will persist for millennia.
        I remember my granddads had rolled up sleeves because they were always gardening, picking cooked winkles out of their shells or walking the dog, fag in hand.

        • Kitty MLB

          Agree, also chaps who wear suits with long sleeve shirts for work will roll up the sleeves in the summer ( a little)
          short sleeve shirts and ties really don’t go . And for more casual wear, nothing wrong with it either.

        • dado_trunking

          Of course it signifies that. I will assert that I myself wear rolled up sleeves all the time, and in doing so ensure I never end up with a portly belly. May I therefore draw your attention to all these handsome young men in a fabulous Harpsund setting. That’s the look.
          http://euranetplus-inside.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/harpsund-meeting.jpg

          • Colonel Mustard

            Hmm. Interesting description of Frau Merkel. I wouldn’t have called her handsome or young…

    • Kitty MLB

      Well if he needed to be photographed Cameron could have done so looking
      cool and sophisticated sitting at a café table, nonchalantly looking out to sea.
      Sipping decent coffee ( not English) and then turning to Samantha he’d ask
      how she’d like him to cook the fish that evening. And then he’d casually pick
      up English newspapers ( keeping an eye on things) before leaving.

    • Colonel Mustard

      The ‘barbecue’ uniform is ghastly but representative of the man. I suppose he has to be careful what he wears with the Eton stigma following him around like a Labour party flash mob.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    When you take off from December to April to avoid the harsh winter to hit the third-world Asia backpacker trail, the expression “holiday” does seem a little inappropriate.
    Extravagant? Hardly. The savings on heating, motor fuel … go a long way to balance the cost. Suck it up, Britisher pals

    • Kitty MLB

      Or Borneo I suggest and highly recommend.And the
      Amazon but for both locations remember- vaccinations,
      a net, a good book, water purifying tablets, long linen trousers and a guide.

  • Gosh. Samantha Cameron. Every time I see her I think: an idiosyncratic choice, like Mary for Paul McCartney. Now Mary had Paul’s odd slant of eyes: so there was a mirror there. But presumably Dave, though no Adonis, could have had nearly anybody. So he chose a woman with Fred-Astaire hands, Kate Middleton’s neck, and a hairdo that doesn’t flatter her. Her dress sense is meh… and the decision not to wear a hat at the wedding was mystifying: anyone can look great in a hat, you just have to choose the right one. Anyway, no one could accuse Dave of picking a trophy wife, except that her father’s a baronet….

    • justejudexultionis

      He chose a wife who is as mediocre as himself.

      • Mediocrity, however defined, would be just fine if only Britain hadn’t sagged into squishy socialism.

  • justejudexultionis

    With any luck Scotland will be liberated on 18 September and then we can be certain that Cameron will be taking a very long holiday indeed!

    • Kitty MLB

      Why, would you prefer the two Ed’s riding across the skies
      of England within some kind of apocalyptic gloom to continue the carnage they started…be careful with what you
      wish for.

  • Okay, so David Cameron is behaving like a statesman about our most important concern, which is fighting down barbarism (something that B. Obama does not and will not do). Sir, I take it all back:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/11039214/Our-generational-struggle-against-a-poisonous-ideology.html

    • Kitty MLB

      S, Tell that to the fools here, with their heads burried in the sand.The Barbarians are ultimately after destroying the West. There is a saying from Churchill: There are those who
      feed the crocodile first hoping it’ll eat them last.

      • Right you are, Kitty. As was Churchill!

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