When Theresa May appeared on Desert Island Discs two years ago, she said that she gets by on five or six hours sleep a night.
Some people can manage on those hours perfectly well, but most probably need seven or eight or so. Those who do but get less are doing their health no good. Margaret Thatcher coped on four hours sleep or thereabouts, but there will have been a long-term toll. She sacrificed her wellbeing for Britain – literally. And the time pressure on politicians has become more intense since her day, which didn’t have mobiles, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and other social media. A feature of the referendum campaign was groups of Conservative MPs on both sides and none communicating via WhatsApp.
An under-considered contributor to this week’s Gove-Johnson motorway smash-up is that neither the principals nor their teams will have had enough rest. They reeled into the leadership contest in the wake of a punishing referendum campaign. Neither man will have been certain that David Cameron would resign, both may have thought it unlikely and neither, amidst the frenzy to win the referendum, will have given the aftermath as much thought as they might. For all Johnson’s ambition and Gove’s brains, both must have felt about the contest what Alan Bennett once wrote about history – that it’s “one bloody thing after another”.
Lost sleep means bad decisions. Team Gove’s decision to pull the plug on Johnson seems to have been made in the wake of a party close to the witching hour on Wednesday evening without all his key staff being present. Not the ideal circumstances in which to make a decision that could well be career-defining.
The other candidates, by contrast, are relatively fresh. May (for all her economy with sleep) wasn’t involved in running either of the Remain or Leave campaigns. Leadsom seems to have been open to a deal with Johnson, and therefore not necessarily expecting to run. Crabb is a plucky outsider and so for all his experience is Fox.
Yes, our politicians should spend more time in bed – an unconventional view, maybe, but there it is.