Remember that fantasy game we used to play as children: If I were Prime Minister…? Well, if I actually were the PM, one of the first things I’d do would be introduce an extra day to the weekend to balance out the week: four work, three leisure; more time for RnR, friends and family. What’s not to like?
There is of course no earthly chance of me becoming PM, and even if I was there would be even less hope of introducing my change, not only because it would harm the economy horribly, but because, if anything, we are all heading in the opposite direction. That’s not least because our definition of leisure has changed so much over the past two decades.
Back in the 1990s, if the likes of Asda, Morrisons and Selfridges had called for a radical overhaul of the Sunday trading laws to allow more than six hours’ shopping a day for ‘big’ stores (over 300,000 sq ft) as they did this weekend, they would have got short shrift. Under the Sunday Trading Act 1994 that’s the maximum such shops can stay open – and then, not before 10am. This is the case in England and Wales by the way. Not so in Scotland, where they are able to shop for longer on Sundays without society having fallen apart.
I don’t mean to be facetious. I know how much people value their leisure time, but that’s exactly why such a change is needed. To maintain the status quo from an era pre-internet-shopping, pre-retailing shift-work patterns and pre the precipitous decline in Church attendance makes ever less sense. One argument was it helped the little shopkeeper fight back against the big boys, but that no longer flies. Mostly, the large ones have won already, and for the smaller ones not to have the option of competing with the internet no longer makes sense.
It is also to willfully ignore what to some is an unpalatable truth: many people opt to shop as a favoured leisure pastime. It’s not greed or laziness, but a positive choice. Many of us would like to get shopping out of the way on Sunday mornings before the teens rise, or take the toddlers along to give a parent a rest. Some of us simply can’t make it on Saturdays due to increased family or personal commitments, or simply that we are at work then too.
I know people also already work Sundays. I was among them when editing the i paper, and several staff at the newly-launched London Live TV channel where I work now, are to be found toiling away on Sundays. That’s the point. Employment patterns have changed so much that they have changed our leisure patterns. If the workplace has transformed as a result then the physical retail space must adapt.
I recognise many of you will disagree with me and align yourselves with the Keep Sunday Special campaign, but I think it’s a disingenuous view of the world. The restrictions only came into play in the first place because of religious edicts that the majority of us no longer accept. It’s almost as utopian to my mind as France’s 35-hour working work, and look where that’s got the French. Sad perhaps, but you can’t put the Sunday working genie back in the lamp.
Stefano Hatfield is editorial director of London Live