Holiday season… and cat fights

BOTH Holyrood and Westminster are now well into their summer recesses, what in media terms is known as “the silly season”, when otherwise minor stories are often blown out of all proportion.

It isn’t a purely British phenomenon. In France it’s known as “la morte saison” and in Germany “sommerloch”.

For some politicians of all parties, this six-week period does indeed constitute a holiday, when little or no work is done. However, for the majority, it must be said, it is a time for constituency work, and catching upon tasks overlooked in the normal hurly-burly of day-to-day political life in parliament. This is particularly true for MPs and MSPs whose constituencies are distant from Westminster or Holyrood.

At Westminster, the Speaker can recall the House during recess if he deems it necessary, though it is relatively rare – the most recent occasions were for the death of Mrs Thatcher in 2013, and the murder of Jo Cox last year.

For silly season political stories look no further back than last summer, when the media (up to and including the BBC and the Guardian) gave great coverage to a cat fight in Downing Street between Number 10’s Larry, and Palmerston, the Foreign Office moggie. As an excuse for carrying the tale (no pun intended), it was spun as symbolic of the battle between Theresa May and Boris Johnson, Out of interest, Larry won the fight.

Then there was the issue of Michael Gove’s beard, with dozens of column inches devoted to its possible political significance. In the event, he shaved it off.

Of course, with politics off the agenda, the media has to look elsewhere for their major scoops. I recall a tabloid tale of a constellation of stars, which revealed actor Richard Wilson’s face when the dots were joined, resulting in the headline “Victor Meldrew found in space”. Then there was a story about squirrels becoming crack-addicted in South London, after nibbling at discarded addicts’ needles. It turned out, of course, to be complete nonsense.

The silly season allows the media to use the full range of their staff’s imaginations. So be on the lookout for stories about crop circles, images of Christ in a potato crisp, or other even more ludicrous tales in the coming weeks.