Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life: Alexander Chancellor

Article excerpt

It's August in Tuscany, and the market towns are eerily quiet, presumably because most of their inhabitants are off on their summer holidays by the sea, in the mountains, or wherever. But there also seem to be fewer foreigners about than usual. Maybe they are lurking somewhere -- in Florence or Siena probably -- but what I do know is that there are no foreign political leaders spending their holidays in Italy this year. There was a time when they all came pouring in. Tony Blair came here year after year, usually freeloading as the guest of some grandee or other, earning much criticism within the Labour party as a result. But leaders of France and Germany came too, though more modestly, staying in hotels and paying their own way. David Cameron came to Tuscany with his family three summers ago and rented a villa (as had the French prime minister the year before) only a few miles from where I am now; but he hasn't been back. Tuscany seems to have fallen out of fashion, but so, it turns out, have foreign holidays of any kind where political leaders are concerned.

This year the only non-Italian politician of any note to be vacationing in Tuscany is Ségolène Royal, France's minister of ecology, who is however far better known as a former presidential candidate and mother of President François Hollande's four children. But what of Hollande himself? He is holidaying only 30 minutes' drive away from the Élysée Palace at La Lanterne, an official presidential residence at Versailles. He has also urged the members of his government to spend their vacations no more than two and a half hours away from Paris. Similar restraint is shared by almost all the leaders of western Europe. The Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, is staying in his home region of Galicia, where he was born, and the same is true of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, though his home region just happens to be Tuscany. Angela Merkel did visit Italy briefly last month, though staying in the rather Germanic South Tyrol on the border with Austria; but for the rest of her summer holiday she will be in her cottage in the Uckermark in north-eastern Germany.

All this of course reflects the continuing economic crisis in Europe, in which nations suffering from low or no growth and high unemployment demand modesty and self-denial on the part of their political leaders. …

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