Time for Johnson’s UK government to cut the PR games and level with people over Covid-19

Sometimes it’s better just to give people the news straight.

Here’s Ministry of Defence Spokesman Ian McDonald in 1982 on the Falklands War, and the many reverses that encounter entailed. McDonald was much mocked at the time but people believed him and were grateful for getting all the mostly unvarnished facts, in this case the sinking of HMS Sheffield.

An example from the Thatcher era that UK premier Boris Johnson, his advisers and ministers (somewhat less important than the advisers it seems) might do well to bear in mind as they flounder with the Covid-19 outbreak.

It’s traditional for politicians in the UK to leak “stories” to journalists to hit the Sunday papers and current affairs TV shows. Then they can judge if the policy is a winner or something they’ll have to deny they ever thought of.

So this week, with Covid-19 raging, some genius floated the idea of confining anyone over 70 to self-isolation for four months, until it was all right again. Which would mean that the likes of Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys, Joan Bakewell and even (dare one say it) Sir Martin Sorrell were confined to quarters until the end of the summer holidays. And millions of people far less able to fend for themselves in isolation than this lot.

But there’s been no official announcement as far as we can see. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been squirming away, wishing he’s never been landed with this one. By whom? Beanie-hatted special adviser Dominic Cummings?

The UK government is making a right hash of this. Old PR hands used to say “tell the truth or say nothing.” Good advice for anyone who’ll listen.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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