If The Tories Think Keir Starmer Finishing Work At 6pm On Fridays Is ‘Part-Time’, What Hope Do We Have?

'If we want parents back in work after having children, how are we meant to do this if it’s shocking to log off at 6pm?', writes Anna Silverman.

Keir Starmer

by Anna Silverman |
Updated on

Some things in politics are controversial: whether MPs’ abuse their use of expenses; whether a leader would use nuclear weapons. Do you know what shouldn’t be controversial? Logging off at 6pm on a Friday to spend time with your family, whoever you are.

And yet, somehow, in a last-ditch attempt to score points as they flail in the polls, the Conservatives have managed to turn Keir Starmer’s admission that he tries to be home for Friday night dinner with his family into a political weapon.

In an interview on Monday, the Labour leader, who has a 16-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter with his wife Victora, said: ‘We’ve had a structure in place that I try to keep to, which is to carve out really protected time for the kids. So on a Friday – I’ve been doing this for years – I will not do a work-related thing after six o’clock, pretty well come what may. Now there are a few exceptions, but that’s what we do.’ He added: ‘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.’

For this, the Tories have branded him a 'part-time Prime Minister', with Rishi Sunak boasting to reporters: ‘I haven't finished at 6pm ever.' But using this as a reason to suggest Starmer is a slacker says more about some Tories’ attitudes to work/life balance and flexible working than anything else.

It shines a light on an archaic way of thinking – that in order to be taken seriously at work we must behave like it’s the only thing that matters. Do we want a government that recognises the importance of quality time with family, or one who believes working day and night should be worn as a badge of honour?

And can’t we trust Starmer to work flexibly? If he’s logging off at 6pm on a Friday, it’s safe to say he’ll be clocking back in elsewhere if he needs to. We know flexible working is essential if we want to close the gender pay gap and bring about equality. And if we want parents back in work after having children – which we know will benefit the economy - how are we meant to do this if it’s laughable to log off at 6pm?

Of course we must acknowledge that Starmer isn’t any old worker and will likely be Prime Minister in 48 hours, so it’s not necessarily the same as you or I closing our laptops after a day at work. But we can probably assume that if there were to be an urgent national scandal at 7.30pm he’d jump back on duty - as we’d expect him to.

The expectation to be semi on-call at all hours in case of emergencies comes with many high-profile or high-powered jobs. But that doesn’t mean people in these positions shouldn’t also be allowed to ring-fence sacred time with their loved ones. In fact, it benefits us all if the people at the top lead by example. A boss who recognises the importance of work/life balance probably goes on to have a less burnt-out workforce.

For some, be it parents, carers or disabled people, being in a job where they’re able to log off at a certain time might be the only reason they’re able to work at all. A stricter regime from employers might exclude them from the workforce entirely.

Implicit in Sunak’s comments is also the suggestion that caring for his kids after 6pm should still fall to Starmer’s wife, Victoria. You may expect a Prime Minister’s spouse to pick up more duties at home, but top jobs shouldn’t come at the expense of having (or spending time with) a family. And we have to wonder if there’d be the same assumption if Starmer were a woman. Instead, a female Prime Minister would likely be pilloried for admitting to ONLY sitting down with her kids at 6pm, and branded a neglectful mother.

Friday nights are also culturally significant for Starmer, whose wife is Jewish. He’s spoken many times of the importance of observing the Shabbat Friday night dinner, so choosing to ridicule this culturally significant part of his week feels particularly tone deaf. Senior Jewish figures have called the Tories ill-judged and unfair for doing so. (It’s also rich to hear such accusations from a government who gave us party-gate and who saw one of their candidates choose not to return from his holiday to campaign once the election was called.)

Let’s hope Starmer’s 6pm log off on Fridays spark a trend and we see more leaders in prominent positions come forward about the value in a work/life balance. Because if finishing work at 6pm on Fridays is still considered ‘part-time’, what hope do families have?

To suggest someone is a slacker is a smear on their character. But frankly, it would say a lot more about Starmer as a human being if he never wanted to spend time with his kids.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us