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View from the Street: TGIF – We should hold Keir Starmer to account on what he delivers, not whether he’s reading his briefs on a Friday night

Rachel Watson

Associate Partner

As office banter goes it is straight out of the 90s. Yelling ‘part-timer’ to anyone who dares to go to the dentist, leave early, or even take a holiday has somehow never been funny – except perhaps to the workaholic employee who made it. 

I thought we were over all that.

This week, however, Keir Starmer’s comments that, if elected, he would try to carve out some family time on a Friday evening had the Tories foaming over their iPads.  

‘I haven’t finished at 6pm, ever’, Rishi Sunak bragged.  

And in a social media post the Conservatives wrote: ‘Keir Starmer has said he’d clock off work at 6pm. You deserve better than a part-time prime minister.’ 

Given the legacy that the Tory government is leaving behind, I’m not sure that this is quite the mic drop attack line they think it is.

The implication of what the party is saying is: that to be successful you can never clock off. That to excel in your job means sacrificing family life at all costs. 

Well, it’s not. 

And the Tories didn’t seem to mind too much about this when they were enjoying ‘wine time Friday’ every week in Downing Street. 

One thing we have learned in recent years is that being chained to your desk isn’t effective. This is presenteeism, putting the hours in. And we all know people who brag about this who really aren’t very effective at all.

What we want are leaders who deliver results.  

If the economy begins to move again, if public services improve, then who cares whether Keir Starmer or Rachel Reeves decide to spend some time with their families? 

Further, in the era where mental health has become more important than ever, should we not be encouraging a politician to find that time? I don’t know anyone who makes their best decisions when exhausted and separated from their family. 

There is enough dumb prejudice in the workplace without it being fuelled by those who absolutely should know better. 

Keir Starmer is not new to politics, or to high-stakes jobs. He knows that no matter how much he might want to finish at 6pm on a Friday there are some things that will make this impossible. And he’s admitted that – not that the Conservatives will tell you this. 

But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try. And he’s not the first politician to attempt to set some boundaries. 

Although Humza Yousaf only managed little over a year as Scotland’s first minister, he made clear that with a young family he needed to have a home life – one that would involve him still managing to do bath time a few nights every week. 

Current first minister John Swinney has spoken of his need to spend time at home to support his wife, Elizabeth, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, and his teenage son. 

To those of us who try to enjoy a work-life balance, these things seem perfectly reasonable.  

Even those who have the most powerful jobs in an organisation or the country deserve, but also need, time away from it. 

Although there were few positives to take away from the pandemic, the embracing of flexible working is definitely one.  

For years there has been concern about the lack of women in top political and business roles. And there have been many, many discussions on how to make those jobs more appealing and manageable for those who have caring responsibilities or just don’t want to spend all day, every day at their desk. 

That’s why rather than attacking Keir Starmer for his desire to spend time with his family, we should applaud him. 

Keir Starmer has said his government will be one of change. And that is great – but hopefully as well as bringing change to the country, politics and business can embrace his desire to at least try and put well-being first. 

If we want to attract talent into high-powered jobs, we need to make those jobs more appealing – and realising that we all need a break sometimes is a good place to start.