This is the time when most top British newsmakers — politicians, bureaucrats and journalists — go on a holiday, a period when not much happens and when inconsequential, funny and quirky stories are passed off as news in the British news media.
Considered a minor British institution, the ‘silly season’ is the time when most of Britain switches off on holiday. But with elections less than a year away and the situation in West Asia raising new concerns and hackles, it has been anything but a holiday.
PM David Cameron is holidaying in Portugal, where he was seen at a fish market with wife Samantha, but the relaxed reverie was soon disturbed by news from London that Sayeeda Warsi, the first Asian woman cabinet minister, had quit over his policy on Gaza.
To add to his anxiety, Boris Johnson, the popular London mayor widely believed to topple Cameron as the Conservative leader, announced his intention to contest the May 2015 elections, and potentially bid for the prime ministership.
The silly season wasn’t supposed to be like this. This time of the year, tabloids usually go to town with stories such as egg being fried on pavement, Jesus appearing on a toast, cow falling from cliff-top into caravan, no one appearing to be running the country, UFOs being sighted, etc. According to the Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the ‘silly season’ is defined as ‘the part of the year when Parliament and the Law Courts are not sitting (about August and September)’.
While Cameron is relaxing in the Portuguese coastal town of Cascais, the holiday destination of deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is Spain, where his wife Miriam has family, and Labour leader Ed Miliband is reported to prefer France. Holidays are important for politicians, Cameron told newspersons some time ago: “I am a great believer that politicians are human beings and they need to have holidays. I don’t call it annual leave, I call it a holiday and I am looking forward to having a holiday. If you don’t think politicians ought to have holidays I think you need to have a serious think”.
In 2011, holidays and the silly season were rudely disrupted when riots swept across London, and young rioters stepped into the vacuum in which no one seemed to be in charge.
The riots were real events for journalists, most of whom were scouring for news to report on. The result was blanket coverage of the events in London, broadcasting riveting images of cars, buses, shops and houses going up in flames, across the world.
The ‘silly season’ had turned serious as leading lights of the coalition government, including Cameron and home secretary Theresa May had to cut short their holidays and rush back to deal with the situation. Cameron would be hoping there are no more small and big political fires beyind Warsi and Johnson before he returns to London.