Tim Montgomerie has a fascinating piece in this week’s New Statesman where he pinpoints ten moments that have shaped the coalition government so far. The tenth of those points is particularly interesting:
Cameron, it seems, doesn’t arrive at his desk in No 10 until 8.30am and has left by 7pm. Away from that desk, he may be working privately, but he certainly finishes earlier than his Downing Street predecessors.
For Montgomerie this is symbolic of an inattention to detail and has resulted in some of his worst gaffes (see Jim’s post earlier today for more evidence of that). But I disagree.
Working long hours is a terrible idea, especially if you are prime minister. Yes, you might consume more information and even make more decisions, but the quality of those decisions is bound to get worse as you get more tired.
The long-hours culture is particularly prevalent in the banking sector. You might think this is evidence that working longer hours shows a commitment as well as a super-efficient businesslike mindset. I think it results in catastrophically bad decisions.
On a micro-scale I hear of tired traders mixing up the delivery and contact addresses on order forms – with the result that a shipment of copper is sent on its way to a Canary Wharf trading floor. On a macro-scale, well, the events of the last two years should tell you enough about that.
Margaret Thatcher famously slept only four hours a night. Perhaps that worked for her.
For Gordon Brown, however, who was known for waking up his advisers before dawn with questions on policy minutiae, it did not lead to particularly good decision making. It was when Brown was probably at his most tired, don’t forget, that he made those ratty and ill-fated remarks about a pensioner in Rochdale.
So David Cameron works 10 and a half hours a day? That sounds like plenty to me. Personally I would rather have a prime minister able to make decisions with a clear head than one who knew every letter of every paragraph of every piece of legislation.