Little things can mean a lot. Like holidays, for instance.
In his superb biography of Margaret Thatcher, Charles Moore tells the story of her 10-day break in Corsica when she was Education Secretary back in the 1970s. After only four days, her secretary received a telephone call from Mrs Thatcher. “Hello dear. We’re at Heathrow.”
“Oh, “ said the secretary. “Has something dreadful happened?” “Oh no dear, We’ve done Corsica.”
On another occasion, when she was Prime Minister, she was persuaded to take an 18-day summer break in the Alps. But her “holiday” did include meetings with five world leaders and a visit to a chipboard factory.
Famously, Mrs Thatcher did not do holidays. She found the disruption to the “rhythm” of her long working days unsettling and frankly she did not know what to do with herself when she was away from her Downing Street desk.
It was also a mark of her seriousness. Being Prime Minister was not a job, like working in a bank. When you are embarked on a mission to change not just your country but the whole world, there isn’t much time for mucking about on a beach.
David Cameron’s political hero is the famously languid Harold Macmillan, who thought nothing of whiling away the afternoon at No 10 by sitting in the garden reading a novel.
So may be that’s why the Prime Minister has had 15 holidays, according to the Daily Mail, in the four years he has been Prime Minister. Dave and Sam are fond of “chillaxing”, particularly in places like Spain, Portugal and Italy, where the sun can be relied upon.
But he has surpassed himself this summer. A week ago, from the comfort of Cornwall, the Prime Minister penned a newspaper article warning in apocalyptic terms that the he West is embroiled in a generational struggle against a poisonous brand of Islamic extremism that will bring terror to the streets of Britain unless urgent action is taken to defeat it.
Then followed the horrific murder of US journalist James Foley. Dave interrupted his Cornish break for 19 hours to return to London and put on his gravest face for the benefit of the cameras. But he was soon back in the sun, pictured surfing at Polzeath in his wetsuit.
Barack Obama followed much the same pattern, breaking away from the golf course solemnly to pledge justice for Foley before returning for his seventh and then eighth rounds in 11 days.
Neither in Cameron nor Obama does this behaviour, highly public as it is, convey the impression of seriousness. The fanatics of the Islamic State bringing mayhem to the Middle East are unlikely to be impressed by this total disconnect between fierce rhetoric and leisurely action.
In June 1940, after France fell to the invading German armies, Winston Churchill spoke of fighting them on the beaches. Our leaders seem to be taking these words too literally.