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Benjamin Jowett

Downing Street says David Cameron will return from holiday in the middle of this coming week. One cannot help feeling this is too soon for him to have enjoyed anything like a complete recovery from his exertions. Would it do the country any harm if he were to stay in Cornwall a bit longer? Would it even do the Conservative Party any harm?

For Mr Cameron faces the strenuous prospect of leading the party, during what may be his last eight months as Prime Minister, through a long and perhaps very tedious election campaign, in the course of which he will feel obliged to visit every part of the  country and to talk often and with distressing boastfulness about good old Oltep (Our Long-Term Economic Plan). In the final stages of the last general election campaign, I recall seeing him at an unearthly hour of the morning at the fish market in Grimsby, where he gazed with seeming interest at some dead fish during a round-the-clock tour of the country he was making by bus.

Did this combination of dead fish and American-style over-exertion win the Conservatives a single extra vote? Mr Cameron was accompanied by Victoria Ayling, who in those days was the Tory candidate for Grimsby, but who failed by 700 votes to dislodge the sitting Labour MP, the admirable Austin Mitchell. Had she managed to do so, one guesses she might not have decided, early last year, to join UKIP.

Mr Cameron’s decision to return from holiday is of course impelled in part by the puritanical exhortations of the media. Journalists who find themselves spending long summer days at the computer are adept at realising how indispensable the Prime Minister is. If we must be in the office, why shouldn’t he? As it happens, I have just been lucky enough to spend three weeks on holiday in and around Berlin, which perhaps accounts for the flippancy of my thoughts. The slow train which I caught one morning to Hamburg had a wonderful thing announced by the conductor as a Raucherpause, a smoking break, during which it stopped for 20 minutes at a station and passengers descended to the platform for a cigarette. There is an unhurried quality about German life which is very attractive. They drink also at a slower pace, and for longer.

Perhaps Mr Cameron should be congratulated, all things considered, for showing the courage to take as much holiday as he does. It is conceivable, though improbable, that he has been influenced by the remark made by Benjamin Jowett, the great Master of Balliol, who said: “I have come to an age when it is best not to aim at a complete holiday.” But one trusts the staff of this 47-year-old Prime Minister will at least draw to his attention another of Jowett’s insights, preserved on page 61 of Geoffrey Madan’s Notebooks: “A man cannot become young by over-exerting himself.”

 

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