Navigating a minefield – how do politicians decide where to go on holiday?

By August 16, 2016Public Affairs

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For any politician or top civil servant one of the most angst-ridden decisions of the year will be where to spend their summer break.  Holidays are said to be restorative and good for the soul but for those at the highest levels of public office they have the ability to make or break a career.

The question is simple but the answer is complex – Do you opt for a ‘staycation’ and promote the best that the UK has to offer?  Or do you dare to travel somewhere more exotic?  In Indigo’s latest blog Senior Account Manager Colin McFarlane charts the risks and rewards of making the right holiday choice and the implications for your organisation if a crisis hits while you’re soaking up the sun…

For the past few years the economic downturn has put an added pressure on politicians to tone down their holiday choices and inevitably the ‘staycation’ has become a popular outcome.  Whilst some of their constituents may be struggling to make ends meet, many politicians are deciding against lavish summer breaks, either in a show of public solidarity or to avoid any embarrassing accusations of them being ‘out of touch’.  Recent Prime Ministers have often opted to stay at home, with the Blairs, the Browns and the Camerons all gracing slightly chilly British beaches in recent years with a mixture of success and enjoyment.

‘Staycationing’ also comes with a number of practical benefits – chiefly that you are never too far away if disaster strikes and your presence is required quickly to manage a crisis.  This is definitely a point which was overlooked by Sir Philip Dilley, the former chairman of the Environment Agency, who resigned his post in January after coming under intense criticism for continuing his holiday in Barbados while large parts of the UK were battling floods.  Whilst the actions of Sir Philip may have lacked common sense, at times of crisis, regardless of your profession, there should always be a clear escalation process for matters of importance and to have in place a top team that recognises the importance of leading by example during such times.  If that means cutting short a holiday then so be it.

However the perceived logic of the staycation may be weakening as our politicians appear to be favouring a return to holidaying on foreign shores.  As Theresa May returns from a walking holiday in Switzerland and Nicola Sturgeon jets back  from a short break in Portugal, could  the risks of travelling abroad be less acute than they once were in a political PR sense?  With modern technology as advanced as it is, it’s highly likely that most affairs of state can be resolved with a telephone call or by jumping on the next budget airline flight home.    There’s even the simpler option of leaving the keys to Bute House or Downing Street in the hands of a capable deputy.

So if our politicians intend to travel abroad more often, the public should steel themselves for more paparazzi images in the same mould as Tony Blair or David Cameron in less-than-flattering swimwear and sporting the popular ‘Dad-bod’ on Europe’s beaches.

Whatever your preference – staycations or a jaunt abroad – lets be agreed that we should take the politics out of choosing a holiday.  Politicians, love them or loathe them, have the same right to a break as anyone else and they should be allowed to go wherever they feel will help them relax.  Surely a relaxed politician is a better politician?

There’s also huge value in government departments, and private sector organisations of all shapes and sizes having a crisis communications plan ready in the event of the unthinkable happening.  Such a plan is worth its weight in gold and will perhaps let the holidaying politician sleep more soundly in their sun lounger.

Colin McFarlane is a Senior Account Manager at Indigo