Crisis, What Crisis?
On January 10th 1979, Prime Minister Jim Callaghan returned from an international summit with the US president, the French president, the German chancellor and others. Meanwhile at home the “Winter of Discontent” was in full swing - there had been a series of strikes as the Labour administration’s incomes policy fell apart, rubbish was piling up in city streets and the UK was in the midst of a cold snap. Oh, and the summit has been in Guadeloupe, and Callaghan had been photographed in his swimming trunks, taking a dip in the Caribbean.
Against the advice of his head of communications, Callaghan decided to hold a press conference at Heathrow airport. It didn’t go well, leading to one of The Sun’s most famous headlines “Crisis, What Crisis?” Five months later Callaghan was ousted from government by Margaret Thatcher, and Labour didn’t return to power for 18 years.
For a long time those leading the country were exceptionally wary of going on holiday. In 2013, David Cameron was slammed by The Sun again for going on a foreign holiday during a terror alert. The headline: “Crisis? I’m off to Ibiza.” For the rest of his tenure Cameron stuck to UK holidays - making sure he was photographed in his shorts in Cornwall.
As I’ve said in previous posts, Boris Johnson doesn’t follow the rules. He’s quite happy to go on holiday, and be for all intents and purposes incommunicado, when the brown stuff is hitting the fan. Apparently during the A Level marking crisis, he’s been enjoying the Scottish summer (which for the uninitiated is like autumn in the rest of the country, with added midges). Across the pond, Donald Trump also doesn’t seem to care that people worry he is not dedicating all his time to the Presidency, as he has visited golf courses 273 times in his three and a half years in office, that's more than once every five days.
The question is – does it matter? Do the voters want always on leadership? Do we want micromanagers in charge or great delegators?
The model of “in charge” leadership is often cited as Harry Truman, who when he was president had a sign on his desk that read “The Buck Stop Here”.
While on the face of it, Boris takes a more laissez faire approach to responsibility, his loyalty to his team – first Robert Jenrick, then Dominic Cummings, now Gavin Williamson – shows an apparent willingness to absorb negativity which could be interpreted as good leadership, giving his subordinates the space to make decisions, even if some of them are wrong. Going away is part of this – saying “I’ve picked a good team and I trust them to run things while I’m off”.
Boris also has a large commons majority and four years to convince voters he is actually in charge. As we near election time in 2024, I suspect Johnson will spend less time on holiday and will be more trigger happy.