UK government reigns from Spain

Frosty relations between David Cameron and Nick Clegg on hold under Iberian sun

David Cameron relaxes on a Mallorca beach with his wife, Samantha, and daughter, Florence.
David Cameron relaxes on a Mallorca beach with his wife, Samantha, and daughter, Florence. GTRESONLINE

The British prime minister, David Cameron, and his deputy, Nick Clegg, have chosen sun-soaked Spain for their summer vacation destinations, like so many of their other compatriots do every year. The two leaders, one a Conservative and the other a Liberal Democrat, govern Britain in a coalition that began as a marriage of convenience, passed swiftly through the honeymoon period, and is now, after two years, at the familiarity-breeds-contempt stage.

But the politicians do not need to worry about bumping into each other while on vacation: Cameron is in Mallorca while Clegg has again repaired to the village of Olmedo, in Valladolid, a physical distance they will not be able to repeat when they return to the political reality of London.

Perhaps because he left a kingdom far from united, with some of his coalition colleagues less than amused about an impending autumn of discontent, Cameron appeared ill at ease in the first photographs released of his Balearic break. Downing Street has not revealed the exact location of Cameron and his family, but the prime minister was seen drinking a coffee in Pollença and has been spotted on the island’s beaches. On this occasion, Cameron left a tip after his refreshment, unlike an episode last year while he was on vacation in Tuscany.

That day, he paid for a pair of cappuccinos with a 50-euro bill but failed to leave so much as a cent for the waitress. After a quiet word in the prime ministerial ear from his advisors, Cameron returned the next day with some largesse, even posing for photographs with the waitress, Francesca Ariani. As it happened, the Italian had not even recognized the miserly Englishman at her café, but politicians tend to attract the constant shadow of a journalist or two.

“Politicians are humans as well and we need to take vacations,” said Cameron to justify his flight from the UK after the Olympic closing ceremony. Nobody disagreed but the British press did wonder aloud why Cameron and Clegg had not alternated their time off so one of them was at home with his hands on the reins of government. The British public, meanwhile, is still in the thrall of a post-Olympic hangover after an acclaimed Games that also delivered sporting success in the shape of 65 medals, 29 of them gold.

Macroeconomic forecasts and the British government’s next batch of cutbacks should, though, provide the cold water to douse the festive spirit.

The Camerons arrived in Palma last Monday on a low-cost flight. While on the beach building sandcastles with his children, Florence, Arthur and Nancy, the PM was recognized by a tourist, who offered his hand. Lifting his sunglasses, Cameron accepted and shook. He will return to London briefly before again departing for a national destination.

Clegg, who in his last public appearance looked tense and depressed, said he wanted to “completely disconnect” during his stay in Olmedo, the hometown of his wife, Miriam González Durantez. Clegg is known as “el inglés” in the town of 4,000 inhabitants, although he speaks perfect Spanish. For 20 years now the deputy PM has been summering in Olmedo, home of his mother-in-law, widow of the former Union of the Democratic Center senator Antonio González Caviedes. There, Clegg says, he can “breathe peacefully and forget about daily worries.”

The Liberal Democrat leader will return to England shortly after Cameron, when he will enter into a fresh round of negotiations with the Conservatives ahead of a reshuffle set for September. The main beneficiary of the divisions in the government is Labour leader Ed Milliband, who is in Greece with his wife and two children, watching as the polls lean ever more favorably toward the left without having to lift so much as a finger.

Like his political opponents, Milliband’s vacations are defined by modesty and family, a far cry from the opulent peregrinations of his party colleague, Tony Blair, during his time in Downing Street.

Despite the criticism he received year on year, the former PM never declined invitations to holiday for free at the homes of millionaire friends, including Robin Gibb (Miami Beach), Cliff Richard (Barbados) and Silvio Berlusconi, who received Blair with full honors at his now-notorious villa in Sardinia.

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