Whatever the comings and goings on Friday, no politician will depart the stage to the cheers heading Andy Murray’s way when he retires. Though we knew it was coming, hearing he has played his last Wimbledon singles was a dunt to the spirit.

Not for Sir Andy and other sporting greats a set working week, guaranteed progression in their careers and a fixed date for retirement. Champions soar as high as they can for as long as they can, and when they cannot it is over.

Away from Wimbledon in another London postcode, working ways came up in an interview with Sir Keir Starmer. Speaking on Virgin Radio, the man hoping to be the UK’s next Prime Minister served notice that he won’t be working Fridays after 6pm.

“Some people think if you fill your diary 24/7 and don’t do anything else, that makes you a much better decision maker. I don’t agree,” he told Chris Evans, himself no stranger to setting his own hours.

Andy MurrayAndy Murray (Image: free)

Cue outrage from the Conservatives, who branded Sir Keir a “part-time Prime Minister”. Rishi Sunak said he had never finished at 6pm, though given his record it is hard to see that as anything to boast about. Grant Shapps, former defence secretary, wondered “who would be standing in for Starmer between 6pm and 9am - Angela Rayner, David Lammy, Ed Miliband?”

They were ridiculous comments, particularly from Shapps, who once again enlisted “our servicemen and women” on his side. His intervention called to mind Hillary Clinton’s melodramatic, and much lampooned, ad of 2008, the one with the sleeping children and the 3am phone call. Who could America rely on to pick up the phone in the event of an international crisis? Barack Obama, apparently.

The manufactured row over Keir Starmer’s 6pm finish did prove useful in throwing light on one of the most pressing subjects of our times: work. Who should work and how? What rights should workers have? How much should they earn? What changes will AI bring? When should we stop work?

The latter question continues to consume Democrats following Joe Biden’s woeful performance against Donald Trump in the first televised US presidential debate last week. The only surprise was that anyone should be shocked. Party chiefs have been warned for years, and the voters have said it in poll after poll, that they were concerned about Biden’s age and ability to do the job. If he was the CEO of any business he would have been taken aside long before now and told it was time to go. Yet he is determined to carry on and he probably will, largely because the party has left it too late to replace him.

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In the UK, working smarter has been at the heart of this general election campaign. The main parties agree that growing the economy is the only way the state will be able to pay for the services people need without increasing taxes or cutting spending. Going for growth means boosting productivity, but how?

Many countries are looking at the four-day working week as the answer. Greece, however, is going the other way and bringing in a six-day week. According to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, this will make up for a shortage of skilled staff and the growing number of young Greeks seeking work abroad. Trade unions are outraged, arguing the move is more about boosting profits than productivity.

In the UK, Labour’s plan to boost workers’ rights has been one of the trickiest policies for the party to sell during this campaign. Brought in at the insistence of the unions, there was a wobble early on with pro-business factions in the party suggesting a go-easy, graduated approach would be better than any big bang reform.

The same arguments will be repeated, this time with business involved directly, should Labour win on Thursday. Any perceived backtracking will be met with fury from the unions, though how much that matters depends on the size of any Labour majority. The union money has already been been spent getting Labour into government. What happens next depends on ministers. Many are banking on Angela Rayner, Labour deputy leader and potentially deputy Prime Minister, to deliver on a policy she has personally championed.

An incoming Labour government might also find its plan to cut NHS waiting times by offering weekend and evening appointments is more difficult than it appears. NHS doctors and nurses will be paid overtime to take on extra shifts, but how many will want to? There is already a problem with staff burnout.

Given the enormity of the tasks ahead, Keir Starmer snapping the lid on his highlighter pen at 6pm on a Friday seems neither here nor there. As he has said in interviews, and as those Conservatives criticising him this week must have known, the Starmer family keep Shabbat, or Friday night dinner, and have done for years.

Friday Night DinnerFriday Night Dinner (Image: free)

For many families and friends, Jewish or not, Friday nights are a chance to unite and relax after the stresses of the week. Such occasions are A Good Thing, something to be celebrated and not made the basis of a cheap jibe about a “part-time prime minister”.

There ought to be an apology from the Conservatives, but don’t count on it. (The brilliant Friday Night Dinner, by the way, is Sir Keir’s favourite sitcom. Catch it on Channel 4 or Netflix if you have not yet had the pleasure.) From prime ministers and teachers to surgeons and, dare one say it, journalists, everyone needs time off to rest and renew. Presenteeism, being at work come what may, does no one any good and actively does many harm.

Problems arise when people are denied proper time off, either because they have to do several jobs to make ends meet, or their services are in such demand because of shortages. Remember, too, the shift workers, without which no country could function or prosper.

Early shift, late shift, happy in your work or looking for another job, we all deserve a break. Yes, even those who work at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.