The Third Leader: Political brief

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The Independent Online

Some muttering, we note, about the Prime Minister's wish to limit the speeches of his cabinet colleagues at the forthcoming Labour Party conference in Bournemouth to seven minutes. Suggestions, indeed, of a desire to control, and a feeling that all ministers should have the freedom to expatiate, won by his dashing deputy, Ms Harman.

In this space, a byword for brevity, a triumph of terseness, we understand that ministers have copious complexities to convey, but we also remember Peter Cook as Harold Macmillan commenting on the short notice of nuclear attack then available: "Some people have said: 'Oh my goodness me – four minutes? –That's not a very long time!'. Well, I would remind those doubters that there are people in this great country of ours who can run a mile in four minutes".

And, obviously, there's even more you can do in seven minutes. The world record for the 3,000 metres, for example, is just over seven minutes, and, by happy chance, it's also around the time a man in America takes to run a mile on stilts. Delegates watching ministers struggling to meet the limit should bear in mind that the original Riverdance lasted seven minutes, as does Milhaud's opera, The Deliverance of Theseus.

The average executive has an attention span of seven minutes. Someone in Britain goes bankrupt every seven minutes. In the same time, an American woman can eat 65 hard boiled eggs, and a man at Green's restaurant here can shuck 92 oysters. David Blaine can hold his breath for seven minutes. And, oh, yes, that's how long it takes the average person to fall asleep.