Leaders need holidays, but Mr Blair has failed to grasp the essence of leadership

Share
Related Topics

No one should expect the Prime Minister to break off his holiday and return home for just any disaster, natural or man-made. Were this to be a requirement of the job, the occupant of 10 Downing Street would never be in a position to enjoy a well-deserved break at all. He might as well stay at home.

No one should expect the Prime Minister to break off his holiday and return home for just any disaster, natural or man-made. Were this to be a requirement of the job, the occupant of 10 Downing Street would never be in a position to enjoy a well-deserved break at all. He might as well stay at home.

It is probably also true, as the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said that there was nothing the Prime Minister could have done about the tsunami catastrophe that was not already being done. Mr Straw said that he had returned from his holiday, as had the Deputy Prime Minister, as had the International Development Secretary - which was as it should be. What purpose would be served by the Prime Minister's return?

On the purely practical level, Mr Straw was right. There was nothing the Prime Minister could have done. A prime minister is not a fund-raiser; he is not an aid co-ordinator, not a doctor or a priest who might feel obliged to offer his services. And there is something self-centred and mawkish about national leaders who rush off to disaster zones to show their "compassionate side" or to run up the national flag. For Mr Blair to have interrupted his holiday would have served no practical purpose at all.

Being Prime Minister in the communications age, however, is about far more than practicality; it is also about what is appropriate and what reflects well on Britain. And here Mr Blair was either mistaken or poorly advised. There is at very least a dissonance in the imagined picture of the Prime Minister taking his ease in Egypt, amid tropical scenery not unlike that laid waste on other shores, at a time when thousands - including several dozen Britons - have perished; a time when millions have lost homes and livelihoods; a time when the people of this country have rallied to an aid effort probably unprecedented in scale.

Within a day of the Disaster Emergencies Committee launching its appeal, the Government's offering (now again revised upwards from the paltry £1m it first thought of) had been eclipsed. From the Queen to football clubs to commercial concerns and pensioners, the response has been extraordinary. In this strange downtime between Christmas and New Year, Royal Britain, working Britain, retired Britain, sporting Britain, media Britain and Britain plc are all engaged. Should the Prime Minister really still be relaxing by the pool?

Mr Blair did issue a statement in which he spoke of the world "united in sorrow" and promised that Britain stood ready to "help in any way we can". But with other leaders returning to their desks, dispatching ministers and personally associating themselves with the aid operation, our own government's efforts look shamefully half-hearted. Even the famed holiday-hermit, George Bush, managed a personal appearance to set out in vigorous terms what assistance the United States was contributing. Mr Bush understood the chance this disaster afforded for him to present another, more generous, face of America.

Even quicker to appreciate the extent and import of the disaster, was Mr Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton. Speaking to the BBC a mere 36 hours after the tsunami struck, Mr Clinton said he had looked at a map and realised at once how far-reaching the consequences could be. Drawing on his experience of visiting disaster zones in India and Turkey, he proposed ways in which help could be most effectively organised. Ever the instinctive politician, he noted that disasters could also contain seeds of opportunity.

Things are easier for elder statesmen, of course. Broaching big ideas is arguably what they are there for. A more imaginative or far-sighted leader than Mr Blair, however, might have grasped early on that by projecting Britain as a leading donor and organiser of aid to the ravaged regions - many of which are in the Commonwealth - he could also advance his own big idea: his plan to use Britain's presidency of the G8 next year to tackle global poverty. By staying on holiday, Mr Blair has missed that opportunity.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas