UK premier Boris Johnson fluffs his lines over COVID-19

I caught up belatedly with Boris Johnson revealing the outcome of his (somewhat delayed) Cobra emergency cabinet committee meeting, when he seemed to be making some fairly sensible “steady as you go” comments about the COVID-19 outbreak (better give it its official name.)

But, in hindsight, he made three big mistakes, which may prove terminal.

Firstly he opined that families across the UK would “lose loved ones before their time.” He didn’t need to say this, certainly without declaring a full-on emergency. We don’t know yet, lots of people die from all sorts of things.

Then it emerged that the reason for the gradual imposition of restrictions was to delay the full impact of the virus for as long as possible, so the National Health Service could get its act into gear. Implication: we’re prepared to accept a few deaths to keep the show on the road. Um, no.

And then that there may well be 5,000-10,000 cases we don’t know about. Why say it if we don’t know? if we think that’s the case isn’t this a full-on emergency?

Then the rest of the world zagged while Boris was zigging. Many countries closed their schools, sports events far and wide (including the UK) have been cancelled. In the UK’s case bodies like the Premier League aren’t listening to what Boris confidently calls “the science.” They’re acting against official advice.

So it becomes an object lesson in how not communicate. Nobody in their right mind would say this stuff was easy but Johnson has so far fluffed it. The government and its medics are playing catch-up.

Even shoot-from-the-hip Trump is doing better.

Johnson’s hero Churchill promised to “fight them on beaches and on the landing grounds.” Even though, at the time, we didn’t have much left to fight Hitler with (RAF and Royal Navy notwithstanding.) Boris needs to find a more heroic tone from somewhere.

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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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