Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Peter Kellner Column

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Peter Kellner Column

Article excerpt

Byline: By Peter Kellner

As North-Easterners know better than most, Winston Churchill was not always right.

As Home Secretary before the First World War and Chancellor of the Exchequer afterwards, he showed scant regard for the interests and feelings of working people.

However, in one particular respect, he judged things far better than recent ministers. As Britain's Prime Minister from the dark days of 1940 until 60 years ago this week, he never allowed wartime crises to stop him taking long trips abroad. In one 12-month period, from January 1943 to January 1944, he spent no fewer than 172 days out of the country.

To be sure, much of the time was spent on vital wartime business, including meetings with President Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. And the need to cross the Atlantic in slow naval convoys rather than aircraft added to the length of his times away from Britain.

Nevertheless he still found time for relaxation, including holidays in the United States and Canada in the summer of 1943, as part of a seven-week absence from his desk in Downing Street, and a winter break in Marrakesh, at the end of a trip that lasted more than two months.

I suspect that few people, even North-Easterners, would begrudge Churchill his time off, or judge that Britain's war effort suffered from his absences. Indeed, there is a strong case for saying his breaks made Churchill a more effective Prime Minister. And remember: in those days, when international telephone links were rudimentary, and there was no ability to transmit complex documents by fax or email, a globe-trotting political leader was far less able to keep a detailed eye on events, arguments and decisions back home.

How times change. Today, parts of the media rant whenever a minister takes time off at a critical moment to spend time with his or her family. Remember the fuss when Geoff Hoon took his family on a half-term ski-ing trip shortly before the Iraq war?

The latest casualty is Charles Clarke. The Home Secretary was forced to delay joining his wife and children on holiday this week in order to be seen to take charge of the fightback against the London bombers. …

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