Is it possible to 'ringfence' family time when you're prime minister?

When Sir Keir Starmer said that, if elected into No 10, he would finish work at 6pm on a Friday to spend time with his children - Rishi Sunak retorted by saying he hasn't finished at that time "ever" as prime minister.

The Labour leader was asked if he would "ringfence" Friday evenings for family time, to which he replied: "Now there are a few exceptions, but that's what we do."

The Conservatives have since tweeted: "Keir Starmer has said he'd clock off work at 6pm if he became prime minister. You deserve better than a part-time prime minister."

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Sir Keir was only referring to one day a week, telling Virgin Radio: "I don't believe in the theory you're a better decision-maker if you don't allow space to be a dad and have fun for your kids. Actually, it helps me."

So is it possible to have a family life and run the country at the same time?

'Long hours decrease productivity'

According to Professor Alexandra Beauregard, professor of organisational psychology at Birkbeck Business School, the answer is yes.

The Labour leader's attitude "shows recognition of how rest and recovery time is essential for high work performance", she tells Sky News.

"Long hours of work have diminishing returns and decrease productivity.

"So many organisational cultures ignore this and equate time spent in the office with high work quality and quantity. But putting in 60-hour weeks doesn't actually mean you're a committed worker, it probably means you're understaffed and/or inefficient."

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Sir Keir's approach is also in line with research showing that fathers are spending more time with their children after working from home and homeschooling during the COVID lockdowns, she says.

"A lot of people have an overinflated sense of their own importance and it's a relief to see Sir Keir not fall into this self-aggrandising trap," Professor Beauregard adds.

But what about other former leaders?

David Cameron

The former Conservative prime minister claimed his alarm went off at 5.45am while he was in office.

He said he would go "straight to the kitchen table" to start reading his 'red box' - which the prime minister's office fills with relevant paperwork overnight.

Lord Cameron and his wife Samantha had three young children while they lived in Downing Street, with the former PM telling Stylist magazine they would make breakfast for them in the mornings.

"It can be pretty chaotic as we're all getting ready for work and school," he said.

In the evenings he said he would sometimes make dinner for the family - host a Downing Street reception or go to the Commons to vote, where MPs can end up sitting late into the night.

If work permitted him to stay in the Number 10 flat, he told Stylist: "I try to grab some time to watch TV with the kids. Nancy [his daughter] and I love the Great British Bake Off."

In one of his biographies, it was claimed he would use the weekend to enjoy "me time" with his family at Chequers, with "three or four glasses of wine" after lunch if duties permitted.

Nick Clegg

Although deputy prime minister, during the 2010-2015 coalition government, Nick Clegg's diary is likely to have been almost as full as Lord Cameron's.

He told The Independent after getting into office in 2010 that the pair had bonded over their mutual desire to be present fathers.

"In a sense I'm very lucky because David Cameron has young children," he told the newspaper.

He said they had agreed to delay weekly cabinet meetings on Tuesday mornings "to allow us both to take our children to school".

Asked if he had struck the right balance, he said: "I try - I haven't entirely succeeded yet - as much as I can to take the kids to school," adding that he would walk with them where possible.

Mr Clegg, who had three young children during the coalition, said he would be "very rigid" in declining dinner invitations to make sure he was "back home regularly to put the kids to bed".

A former Liberal Democrat communications director said his staff would start work at 5am to prepare for a 7.30am daily news conference.

Tony Blair

During his 10 years in Downing Street, Sir Tony Blair had four young children.

According to reports, his day would start at 6.30am and end at 11pm - but he, like many-a-leader before him, would often read over documents in bed.

Between a 7am phone call with an aide and a 9am meeting with his chief of staff, he would have breakfast with his children before they went to school.

After returning to the flat he would have dinner, see his children, and go to the gym, The Guardian reported.

His successor Gordon Brown was known for waking up his advisers before sunrise with questions on policy.

Naps for former Tory PMs

Although not a reflection on their parenting style, several former Conservative prime ministers have opted for naps to get them through the working day.

According to his biographers, Sir Winston Churchill often took afternoon snoozes in his pyjamas.

This was counterbalanced by just four hours sleep a night during the Second World War.

Margaret Thatcher was also famously proud of only indulging in four hours' rest.

Her former personal assistant said that during the Falklands War she would stay awake until dawn - remaining fully clothed and in her chair.

She didn't nap - but caught up on sleep at Chequers at the weekends instead.

A report in The Times claimed that Boris Johnson would often "shut the door and have a kip for half an hour or so - a power executive business nap to get him ready for the rest of the day".

But when the Downing Street insider's quotes were put to his spokesperson at the time, she said: "The prime minister does not have a nap. Those reports are untrue."