29 May 2013

Mr Cameron's Holiday

The Prime Minister has taken his family somewhere sunny for the week (UK schools’ half-term). Press comment in the wake of the Woolwich Islamist atrocity has mostly been supportive of his having a holiday, although the Daily Mirror carped:
Surrounded by sun, sea and sand in Ibiza, David Cameron looks like he hasn’t a care in the world – as the country he is meant to be running lies in the grip of terrorist turmoil following the horrific murder. While the PM was sipping coffee and chatting to his smiling wife Samantha on the Spanish island, police in London arrested four more suspects in ¬connection with the 25-year-old drummer’s death last week.
That there are other people whose job it is to knock on doors and that there are bound to be appropriate communications hardly needs saying. This comment in a post here last year about the film, The Iron Lady, may be more relevant:
My pet theory is that Prime Ministers, because of the stress of the job (PMQs, the oversized and hyperventilated UK media, sub-standard accommodation in Downing Street, too much travel induced by the UK’s view of its world role) age in office at about 18 months a calendar year …
So I was interested to see the following on a new website from the Mile End Group (the forum for government and politics of Queen Mary, University of London) featuring interviews with former Cabinet Secretaries. Lord Peter Hennessy (LH) interviewed Lord Robert Armstrong (LA) who was sent for by Margaret Thatcher in her first year as PM:
… I remember coming upstairs to the study around the corner, being shown into the Prime Minister at ten o’clock and wondering whether this was going to be the interview in which I was invited to take on the biggest job in the public service and I went into the door and she looked up and she said ‘Robert, you’re looking very tired’, so I thought this wasn’t a very good introduction, to what I hoped to happen. … I went downstairs then afterwards and I told Nigel Wicks, who was the Principal Private Secretary, that I’d been offered the job and accepted it, and so I said ‘It was rather, it was rather curious, the first thing she said to me was “Robert, you’re looking very tired”’, and he said ‘Oh, don’t worry about that’, he said, ‘She’s saying that to everybody this morning.’  
LH: Because of course she wouldn’t have looked tired, she’d look as bright as a button wouldn’t she?  
LA: Of course she, she turned out like a, like a bandbox, not a hair out of place.
Armstrong’s successor, Lord Robin Butler, has been interviewed by Dr Anthony Seldon:
… Margaret Thatcher, by the time I became Cabinet Secretary was very well established, was predominant in the Cabinet, had a huge national and international reputation, and I think was more tired than when I served her as Principal Private Secretary, understandably. And the form which her tiredness took was not that she was any less acute, but she wasn’t as keen to argue long into the night as she had been previously. And so she was a bit shorter with… a bit more abrupt in taking decisions and a bit more dependent on other people in her private office. And you know, one could say that in the end that was her undoing, over both Europe and the council tax - the community charge.
Butler became Cabinet Secretary in 1988, the year when when Margaret Thatcher was 63 (or nearly 68 using the '18 months per PM year' theory). Cameron, by contrast, is 47 in October (or nearing 49) but still shouldn’t be begrudged a holiday.

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