Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Prime Minister is always in charge

In today’s connected world, chances are that, even when you are on holiday, you stay in touch with the office via text, e-mail or maybe even a phonecall. My experience has been the more senior you are, the more likely this is to happen. Keeping clients happy and securing new business is important but what if you are responsible for the safety of the country? Do moments of national security, where decisions might need to be taken in minutes, just wait until the bucket and spade are back under the stairs? If the media are to be believed then this daunting responsibility, that falls on the shoulders of the Prime Minister, is ignored as soon as he heads off on holiday. This myth is perpetuated by paint-it-by-numbers-journalists of the laziest order and is simply not true.

The lie has been exposed over the past week when David Cameron spent the majority of his time overseas, and an awful long time in the air, flying to and from the Commonwealth conference in Australia via the EU summit in Brussels. At no time was he not in charge, out of contact with the UK or unable to make important decisions or direct actions if required. The Prime Minister has taken 5 holidays in the last year and, on every occasion, the situation was the same. Wherever in the world the Prime Minister is he is in contact with Downing Street via the civil service and well honed protocols exist to ensure continuity in emergency situations.     

The demand to know who is in charge reached giddying heights this summer as the media required a senior politician to demonstrate they were directing the response to the riots that affected many English cities. The clamour wasn’t helped by Nick Clegg’s comment, made in February, when asked whether he was in charge while the Prime Minister was away in the Middle East, “Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that”.

The intricate power struggles of Labour politics has a lot to answer for too, with first John Prescott then Harriet Harman insisting they were in charge when Tony Blair or Gordon Brown were on holiday. It became easy pickings for a lazy Lobby hack to write the annual ‘Who is in charge?’ story. Under Gordon Brown things got so bad that he practically refused to go on holiday to demonstrate that it was he that was in charge, no matter what. We should be thankful that unhealthy bunker mentality is no longer part of the Downing Street culture.   

David Cameron has been on 41 overseas trips in 18 months since taking office. These have included EU, G8 and G20 summits, trade trips, diplomatic missions including to Egypt and Libya as well as trips to Russia, the US, Canada, Afghanistan (twice), India, China , Turkey, Pakistan and Nigeria. Later this week he will be attending the G20 summit in Cannes, in the south of France. All of these working trips share something very important with the times he is on holiday: David Cameron is always in charge.

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