Sarah Sands: Jack Bauer may die, but he never throws a sickie

Work/life balance is the slogan of a generation that has had it too easy


The pursuit of work/life balance as a badge of modernity has been set back by the influx of east European migrants and Chinese students who live to work. What seemed enlightened about flexible, job-sharing, flashpacking, down-sizing, long weekending and EU-compatible now looks hopelessly Old World. I spoke to two despairing mothers last week who have watched their expensively educated children shrug off opportunities handed on a plate to them. One undergraduate was offered work experience with a master of the universe but said that he couldn't be bothered to commute and he would prefer to wait tables.

Work/life balance is the slogan of a generation that has had it too easy. This is one reason to support the otherwise life-consuming television series 24. As the title suggests, employees of the counter-terrorist unit routinely work 24 hours on the trot to see a job through. They may be saving the world from a nuclear disaster or an annihilating a virus rather than processing life insurance forms but the principle is the same.

Counter-terrorist staff go without sleep, are routinely kept hostage, are tortured, undergo life-saving surgery and still hobble back to work without a complaint. Jack Bauer actually died in the second series but did not take a day off. "I am just doing my job," say the characters as they endure the final stages of radiation poisoning. No mention of stress. No sickies.

* David Cameron has been mocked by commentators for his environmental photo opportunities and yet a Newsnight poll showed that people like him. The Labour approach to the environment is global and grand-iose and anti-Bush. The Conservative is an adaptation of the Tesco slogan "Every little helps". People quite like the glow of virtue from dividing rubbish between sacks or having shallower baths or turning the lights off.

Labour evokes a sense of helplessness at the enormity of the issue. A climate levy is too amorphous to grasp. Tories suggest that individual effort and the market (i.e. human nature) can make a difference.

I had my doubts over Cam-eron's sleigh ride, but a Conservative female friend assured me that it wasn't so very different from Val d'Isere.

* The Blairs are resentful that politics has got in the way of their making big money. Months ago, I had a lunch with Lord Levy who made a similarobservation. He had sold his business too early so he could serve "Tony". He had given up family life and family fortune to pursue "Tony's" interests round the world. Levy said this with the soppy smile of someone who has run off with a strapping, surgically enhanced Czech mistress and lost his bearings. Levy enjoyed his sense of influence. Not even the President should drop the name "Condi" as often as Lord Levy does. Still, he claims his work for Tony is an act of love. If Blair lets Levy take the rap for the cash for honours scandal, he should beware the lover scorned.

* The decision by Baroness Strange to change her will to favour her daughter rather than her eldest son has been presented as unkindly capricious or a protest against primogeniture. I think it sent a persuasively self-protective message to the next generation. Inheritance is performance-related. Nobody should take the good will of parents for granted.

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