by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 28
July 2020
Debate
07:01

Give Grant Shapps a break!

by Peter Franklin

Grant Shapps is an exceptional minister — in fact, he’s unique: the first politician to face criticism not so much for going on holiday, but for coming back.

Not that he has yet — he’s still in Spain. But when he does return he’ll have to go into quarantine. The rules changed after he jetted-off and there’s been much derision over the fact that a minister — the Secretary of State for Transport, no less — got caught out by his own Government’s change of policy.

However, the risk was always there. International efforts to save the tourism industry exist in tension with the need for countries to protect themselves from resurgent pockets of infection elsewhere. Governments can only act on the latest scientific information — and I’m afraid the Spanish branch of the pandemic failed to coordinate its movements with the minister’s private office.

We know that the silly season is upon us when the press tries to ruin our politicians’ holidays. That our leaders occasionally take a break is, it seems, an intolerable affront. Back in January — after months on the campaign trail and of Brexit trench warfare — the Prime Minister withdrew to the Caribbean island of Mustique. There, he was repeatedly accused by the media of “sunning himself” — as if soaking up the rays was an act of grotesque self-indulgence.

Our politicians can’t win. If their holidays can’t be portrayed as outrageously luxurious, then they’re mocked for being boringly pedestrian — literally so in the case Theresa May’s Welsh walking holiday.

And no matter where they go, they’ll be condemned for not being at their desks while some matter of great urgency is taking place back home. It doesn’t really matter what, though. The press will latch on to anything and pretend that the world will end if their chosen victim doesn’t return to work immediately. At the time of Boris’s Caribbean jaunt it was a ‘crisis in the Middle East’ (that we’ve since forgotten about). It was only retrospectively that the PM was accused of being AWOL while the Covid-crisis brewed in China.

In any case, it’s all nonsense. A government machine that can’t cope without this or that individual — even the PM — is one that can’t cope at all. Instead of muck-raking trivialities, the media should concern itself with the fundamental flaws of the system.

Indeed the fallow period of summer is the ideal opportunity to delve deeper into issues of underlying importance. But rather than do that, they resort to the same old silly-season rubbish. Clearly, it’s not just our politicians who need a holiday.

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