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Tourism Minister in ‘listening to the public’ shocker!

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John Penrose

John David Penrose is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Weston-super-Mare

How was your Easter, then? ‘Wet’ was somehow too small a word for it, as I recall. But that said, you’ve got to hand it to the British weather, haven’t you? Scorching sunshine, sleet, or snow – the only predictable thing about Easter weather is its stubborn refusal to be predictable. You can’t completely blame it on our capricious climate though. Part of the reason for its sheer unreliability is the fact that Easter Sunday can fall on any one of 35 possible dates, with the earliest being 22 March and the latest 25 April*.

An Easter scene

Equinox and Easter Eggs

It’s all to do with calculating the first Sunday after the full moon following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox, which allows for a pretty broad range of possible dates. And this year we are slap bang in the middle of that spectrum, with Easter falling on 8 April, more than a fortnight earlier than 2011. So this time we’d barely managed to find a home for the remains of the Christmas tree when the shops were filling their windows with Easter eggs, the chocolate lover’s annual triumph of hope over experience. But there we are. And there’s something to be said, I believe, for a bit of variety in time’s pageant – where would we be if every public holiday was blessed with glorious fresh and sunny weather? Don’t answer that…

Good Friday and Easter Monday

But the reason I mention this is because the flexibility of Easter Sunday also knocks on, obviously enough, to the timing for the Good Friday and Easter Monday bank holidays. Couple this with the way in which our other bank holidays inevitably shift – in most cases – in order to fall on a Monday or, like Christmas and Boxing Days, are on set dates but not set days of the week, and you get a sense of the highly-moveable feast that is our annual procession of public holidays.
So a year or so ago, when I was putting together the Tourism Strategy, we looked at the idea of seeing whether there was any scope for tweaking our system of bank holidays to help out the tourist industry. A number of extremely sensible people and organisations in the tourism world had argued that shifting the May Day holiday (this year falling next week on 7 May, just to underline the point I was just making) to either St George’s Day, or the equivalent Saint’s day in the other countries of the UK, or perhaps to a date in October coinciding with the Monday of school half term, could help the sector.

Morris Dancers

Morris DancersSo we put the proposal out for what’s called a pre-consultation, where we tested the water in a pretty general way, making it crystal clear that if there was no particular consensus – or a general feeling that the status quo was just fine, thank you very much – then that was what we’d go for. In the event, we had a pretty big response – including plenty of you having your say using the #bankhol hashtag on Twitter; tweets which, in a shining display of 21st Century Government, were all logged and considered alongside more traditional feedback. Your responses ranged from carefully-argued analysis of productivity and output at different times of the year, through to a waistcoat-wearing, bell-ringing, hanky-waving delegation of morris dancers, anxious to stake their claim for retaining a May Day bank holiday as a key part of our 15th century heritage**. It also became clear early on that lots of other interest groups had a case to make, albeit generally without accordion accompaniment or stick-whacking. The garden centre community, for example, see the May Day bank holiday as a sales hot-spot for the gardening lover’s annual ritual of buying bedding plants, or the odd perennial to fill a gap, or even some secateurs to replace the ones that mysteriously disappeared over the winter (but will turn up again in three years’ time).

And the winner is . . . The Status Quo

So no consensus. And – roll-of-drums – no change of bank holiday dates. And is this a victory for Merrie Englande lobbyists and a set-back for hoteliers; or is it a triumph for lawn-mower sellers and a defeat for punch-and-judy men? None of the above, really. More a case of doing what we said we’d do. Will there be headlines along the lines of MINISTER IN ‘DOING WHAT PUBLIC WANT’ SHOCKER? I rather doubt it.
As previously mentioned, the next bank holiday will be on 7 May, and I hope you have a splendid time. A great opportunity for a nice holiday-at-home, or a chance to stock up with a few spring splashes of colour for your hanging baskets and patio pots. Unless, of course, there’s still a chance of frost, which shouldn’t prevent you from the former, but could be the kiss of death for the latter.
*The last time it was as early as 22 March was in 1818 and it won’t happen again until 2285. The next time we get it on the latest possible date is 2038. And this is not a random sequence either – the order of Easter dates repeats itself after exactly 5,700,000 years, which is a suspiciously round number but just happens to be true (if the website I consulted is to be believed). Feel free to disprove this, if the fancy takes you, just don’t tell that chap on The Independent on Sunday who’ll use the fact in evidence against me, given half a chance.
**Morris dancing is not, I understand, the pre-Christian ritual that many believe. It gets wrapped up in the public’s imagination with dancing round the Maypole, but the latter is a much earlier tradition.

Goose image by Zenera on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Morris dancing image by annaadi+ on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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