Voices: Will your kids thank you for clocking off early at No 10, Sir Keir?

Down time: Keir Starmer has long avoided working late on Friday evenings to spend time with his children and his wife, Victoria  (PA)
Down time: Keir Starmer has long avoided working late on Friday evenings to spend time with his children and his wife, Victoria (PA)

Is anyone else worried that Sir Keir Starmer is deluding himself? The Labour leader has said that if he makes it to No 10, he hopes to continue his routine of carving out “protected time” to spend with his wife, Victoria, their 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter.

“On a Friday – I’ve been doing this for years – I will not do a work-related thing after 6pm, pretty well come what may. There are a few exceptions, but that’s what we do,” he explained.

Oh dear, Keir. The real question isn’t whether you’ll be able to avoid the work of being prime minister on a Friday night, but whether your teenage children will want you to.

Aged 16, I’m afraid the idea of sitting down to dinner with my parents at the end of the week was the last thing I had in mind. Try instead under-18 club nights, finding friends with free houses or drinking alcopops on street corners (incidentally, with the then prime minister’s son, but that’s another story). Family Friday nights? I suspect they’ll be shimmying down the Downing Street drainpipes given the first chance.

Naturally, the Tories are now accusing Starmer of planning to be a “part-time prime minister”, overlooking the minor inconvenience of what he actually said, which is that he only hopes to ringfence that time, but accepts that it might be impossible.

In any case, I’m not sure that “part-time” is quite the insult they imagine, given that it’s what so many voters now strive for in their own working lives. Since the pandemic, we’re far more in favour of working from home, having job flexibility and something resembling a work-life balance. We live in a world obsessed with setting personal boundaries and prioritising “headspace” – and for all that sounds like wellness-industry speak, we also understand that it helps us be more productive. As Starmer put it: “I don’t believe in the theory that you’re a better decision-maker if you don’t allow yourself the space to be a dad and have fun with your kids.”

Is the job of PM so very different? We know, and Starmer knows, that he’ll (probably) be taking on a 24/7 gig – unavoidable when you live above the shop. The idea that he would be uncontactable is laughable. Anyone with a big job, or a demanding boss, who tries to put their phone down for a couple of hours in the evening will know how impossible that can be. “It’s just a quick work thing,” is one of the most uttered phrases around my dinner table.

We want a break from slackers in Downing Street, goes the argument. Well, I want a break from prime ministers who won’t even tell us how many children they’ve got, let alone spend time with all of them; a break from the sort of PM whose idea of family values is to publicly criticise his wife for not stacking the dishwasher properly and his children for not walking the dog, as Sunak has. And I’d rather a prime minister who clocked off to spend a bit of time with his family than one who scarpered from D-Day celebrations early in favour of a self-promoting television interview. That’s not diligent so much as arrogant.

The Friday night timing is important, by the way, being that Starmer’s wife, Victoria, is Jewish, and the family observes the traditional Friday night Shabbat dinner. Does anyone attack prime ministers for going to church on Sunday mornings, or Sunak for visiting Hindu temples as he has many times during his time in No 10? On such fine lines can election campaigns turn.

And if the alternative is the sort of leadership that enjoys “wine-time Fridays” during lockdown, misses vital Cobra meetings and allegedly takes time off from the top job to finish writing a book about Shakespeare, then frankly I know which team’s “slacker” I’d rather back.