James Callaghan and wife Audrey on holiday on the beach in Guadeloupe in 1979.
Boris Johnson is facing a backlash for taking a holiday while the UK faces economic turmoil – prompting comparisons to another prime minister who was notably absent as the country faced meltdown.
Amid warnings on Thursday of inflation further soaring to 13%, and of the economy entering the longest recession since the financial crisis, the PM was reportedly in Slovenia on a “mini-moon” with wife Carrie after a belated wedding celebration last weekend.
Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi was also taking a vacation as the Bank of England detailed the brutal outlook and hiked interest rates to from 1.25% to 1.75% – the biggest increase for 27 years.
“Missing in action,” The Mirror thundered, amid a spate of negative headlines on Friday morning.
Friday's front page: Missing In Action #TomorrowsPapersTodayhttps://t.co/QHop57l6TTpic.twitter.com/SY7s9FaYaB
— The Mirror (@DailyMirror) August 4, 2022
But business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng appeared intensely relaxed about his boss being on a foreign jaunt when on the media rounds on Friday.
On Times Radio, Kwarteng said he did not know where Johnson is, adding: “He’s just had a wedding, I think he’s on a honeymoon and…I don’t think many people will begrudge him that.”
But given it’s not the first time Johnson has been MIA since being ousted by his own MPs, you could be forgiven for thinking that Johnson is less a caretaker prime minister and more a chilled-out entertainer.
One phrase in particular has emerged: “Crisis? What crisis?”
Don’t they mean:”Crisis, what crisis?” https://t.co/e3JQhnAWL1
— Ian Lucas (@IanCLucas) August 5, 2022
Crisis! What crisis? https://t.co/4wlKTKeM7G
— Sir Nic Dakin (@NicDakin55) August 5, 2022
Crisis What Crisis ? pic.twitter.com/dz7u6Y69fV
— Ben Walker (@BNHWalker) August 5, 2022
So where do these these three words – one familiar to most A Level politics students – come from?
On January 10, 1979, then Labour prime minister James Callaghan landed at Heathrow Airport after an international summit on the sun-drenched French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
The conference was all business. French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing hosted the meeting, which was also attended by US president Jimmy Carter and chancellor of West Germany Helmut Schmidt. But pictures showing Callaghan wearing swimming trunks on the beach – and walking with wife Audrey – during a brief break before the summit were not good optics.
Back in snowbound Britain, the “winter of discontent” was brewing, with water workers, ambulance drivers, sewerage staff and dustmen involved in widespread industrial unrest.
Holding a news conference at the airport on his return, Callaghan told reporters he would not be declaring a state of emergency, and dismissed suggestions the country was facing in chaos. He said: “I promise if you look at it from the outside, I don’t think other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos.”
The Sun newspaper famously misreported Callaghan’s reply to the reporter’s question under the front page headline: ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ The intro ran: “Sun-tanned premier Jim Callaghan breezed back into Britain yesterday and asked: Crisis? What Crisis?”
As a footnote: Crisis? What Crisis? was the name of a 1975 album by rock band Supertramp, and in turn was a line in the 1973 film The Day of the Jackal. In any case, it has now become a synonym for nonchalance in the face of disruption.
The parallels between 2022 and 1979 – soaring inflation, political turmoil, economic uncertainty, industrial unrest – have been apparent for some time. But while the apocryphal words uttered by Callaghan helped bring down his Labour government that year, Johnson has already been removed from office.
If Johnson “breezes back with a tan” it will hardly tarnish his reputation any further. His successor, however, is unlikely to ask to see his holiday snaps.
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