Boris and co. take Covid mixed messages to another level

Britain’s NHS did indeed launch its allegedly super duper track and trace app over the weekend – with a veritable advertising blitz – and, as we might have, expected it doesn’t work properly, not for everyone anyway.

But the real drama was the conflicting reports of what the Government is up to as it contemplates further measures to tackle Covid-19.

Some papers were blasting PM Boris Johnson for being a “prisoner of the scientists” following the TV appearance by the chief medical officer and chief scientific officer who produced some dodgy-seeming slides saying, essentially, we’re all going to die soon if infections keep rising (although there’s currently no evidence that many people are dying.) Boris then appeared on the telly, waffling away about how he didn’t really want to do this (not that he really is yet) but we all had to pull together – you know, like we did in the war.

Sunday’s papers said that chancellor Rishi Sunak had confounded Boris and the medics while the Tory party was in uproar, demanding parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s edicts (a sensible idea, this is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy after all.)

This morning came the predictable “pushback,” with government sources saying it’s going to happen anyway (lockdown that is) it’s just that the “country isn’t ready for it yet.” So we’re being softened up, it seems.

There’s clearly a communications issue here (although it’s hard to communicate clearly when there’s such a massive opinion division in the governing party) and Boris, in his inimitable way, made it worse in his televised address by ad-libbing that any further measures would have to last for six months. That is, all through the winter including Christmas.

Has nobody told Boris that you need a carrot to go with home secretary Priti Patel’s big stick (she wants the police to ensure that people self-isolate.)

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who’s administering a more severe lockdown, has at least said it will will be reviewed regularly. Boris, though, is having none of this although the decision may be taken out of his hands by a Tory party insistence on such reviews in parliament.

Johnson seems to be playing some personal “be like Churchill” video game: “this isn’t the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning.”

Rhetoric can only get you so far – in this case nowhere very useful.

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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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