When being the Prime Minister gets in the way of a good holiday

Clamouring for Cameron to come back from holiday when things get tough just feeds his Etonian ego.

It can't be easy for David Cameron. You take a nice holiday, to which you're perfectly entitled, and then news happens. Why can't that pesky news just leave you alone for five minutes? But after having cut short a delightful time in Tuscany to declare war on human rights and health and safety after the recent riots, the PM's stay in Cornwall got interrupted by Libya.

The situation in Libya isn't quite as clear-cut as it appeared on Monday night, though - not quite the out-and-out triumph for steely Cameron as it might have seemed after those first few hours, anyway. It's tempting to wonder if our beloved leader hasn't hastily headed back down the M4, only to be called back once again when the rebels started getting on top. You'll probably see him sat at Costa Coffee at Leigh Delamare services, muttering into a phone: "Well, can I go back or not? I've left the bucket and spade and everything."

Whatever Cameron's doing, though, it appears to be working. Whether it's claiming that health and safety and human rights have something to do with the culture that led to rioting in English cities this summer - entirely serendipitously chiming in with his longstanding commitment to obliterate the public sector in the 'red tape challenge', of course - or claiming partial credit for the decision to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, he seems to have had something of a boost in the polls. He must be hoping that holiday time never ends: every time he goes on one, there's a crisis that apparently warrants his early return in order to appear statesmanlike and sort everything out.

It's our fault, of course, for dragging him back in the first place. Even before Jim Callaghan breezed back from sunny Guadeloupe in 1979 and ticked off the press for their 'parochial' view of events (leading to the infamous Sun headline "Crisis, what Crisis?") politicians have been wary of being seen detached from events, especially if they happen to be in sunnier climes than their constituents. We can't bear the thought of our leaders sunning themselves on a beach somewhere, or sipping white wine on a balcony somewhere disgustingly lovely, when we're suffering at home. We want our leaders to come back and sort out the mess. But it's an attitude that plays right into their hands.

Cameron knows this - he's good at presentation - and so rushes back to save the day every time, like the trusty white knight. The delay during the riots, if anything, made it better for him, not worse. The clamour for our Prime Minister to return from Italy made it seem that he was the only one who could save the day; his return was the only way of changing things around and making the important decisions. So when he did come back, and announced a huge surge in police numbers that capped the violence and unrest, it did the trick. He could have done it all on the phone, and it wouldn't have made any difference at all, but why do that when you can make capital out of it? While everyone else was holding the spanners and working like a dog, Cameron came back at the last second, gave the bonnet a polish and handed the keys back. You have to admire his style, if little else.

Whether the boost for Cameron lingers once the kids have gone back to school, and there are no more holidays to cut short, remains to be seen. I would find it depressing if a bit of tough talking after the riots and a war on human rights have proved popular with voters. What would that say about us? That we love to be governed, I suppose. We want the big Etonian alpha male to come and rescue us when we're in trouble, and keep us safe. What a horrible thought.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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A progressive alliance in the Richmond by-election can scupper hard Brexit

Labour and the Greens should step aside. 

There are moments to seize and moments to let go. The Richmond by-election, triggered by Zac Goldsmith's decision to quit over a third runway at Heathrow, could be a famous turning point in the politics of our nation. Or it could be another forgettable romp home for a reactionary incumbent.

This isn’t a decision for the Tories and their conscientious objector, Goldsmith, who is pretending he isn’t the Tory candidate when he really is. Nor is it a decision for the only challenger in the seat – the Liberal Democrats.

No, the history making decision lies with Labour and the Greens. They can’t get anywhere near Zac. But they can stop him. All they need to do is get out of the way. 

If the Lib Dems get a clear run, they could defeat Zac. He is Theresa May's preferred candidate and she wants the third runway at Heathrow. He is the candidate who was strongly Leave when his voters where overwhelming Remain. And while the Tories might be hypocrites, they aren’t stupid – they won't stand an official candidate and split their vote. But will Labour and the Greens?

The case to stand is that it offers an opportunity to talk nationally and build locally. I get that – but sometimes there are bigger prizes at stake. Much bigger. This is the moment to halt "hard" Brexit in its tracks, reduce the Tories' already slim majority and reject a politician who ran a racially divisive campaign for London mayor. It’s also the moment to show the power of a progressive alliance. 

Some on the left feel that any deal that gives the Lib Dems a free run just means a Tory-lite candidate. It doesn’t. The Lib Dems under Tim Farron are not the Lib Dems under Nick Clegg. On most issues in the House of Commons, they vote with Labour.

And this isn’t about what shade of centrism you might want. It is about triggering a radical, democratic earthquake, that ensures the Tories can never win again on 24 per cent of the potential vote and that our country, its politics and institutions are democratised for good.

A progressive alliance that starts in Richmond could roll like thunder across the whole country. The foundation is the call for proportional representation. The left have to get this, or face irrelevance. We can’t fix Britain on a broken and undemocratic state. We cant impose a 21st century socialism through a left Labour vanguard or a right Labour bureaucracy. The society we want has to be built with the people – the vast majority of them. Anyway, the days of left-wing majority governments have come and gone. We live in the complexity of multi-party politics. We must adapt to it or die. 

If the Labour leadership insists on standing a candidate, then the claims to a new kind of politics turn to dust. Its just the same old politics – which isn’t working for anyone but the Tories. 

It is not against party rules to not stand a candidate – it is to promote a candidate from another party. So the way is clear. And while such an arrangement can't just be imposed on local parties, our national leaders, in all the progressive parties, have a duty to lead and be brave. Some in Labour, like Lisa Nandy, Clive Lewis and Jonathan Reynolds, are already being brave.

We can wake up the Friday after the Richmond Park by-election to Goldsmith's beaming smile. Or we can wake up smiling ourselves – knowing we did what it took to beat the Tories, and kickstart the democratic and political revolution this country so desperately needs.


Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones.