Nature abhors a vacuum. Rolling news channels abhor one even more. Yet, during the last week of the pandemic one has been allowed to exist.
Midweek, the government abandoned its daily press conference. This was an odd piece of timing, coinciding as it did with the easing of lockdown, a mini-heatwave and the continuing Robert Jenrick scandal.
With this in mind, the Labour Party could do worse than take on this slot themselves. Like him or not, Keir Starmer is topping polls as a potential Prime Minister and this could be a chance to cement that position. Throw in health, home office, education and business/treasury shadows and you have a five-day schedule that will raise awareness of policy, present a leadership model and expose shadow ministers to the nation.
Now, there is no obligation upon broadcasters to take such a conference (and indeed they probably won’t take every one). But it allows a daily voice as well as the chance to react to government policy and current events.
The slot would offer a daily rebuttal of any government-announced or -leaked stories, as well as a chance to present the daily Covid-19 figures, from infections to deaths. It presents the official opposition as in control and would allow them to present policy and at last answer the question of what they would do better. This was a real problem under the press office of Seumas Milne, with the leader then (one J Corbyn) hardly being allowed out of his allotment shed.
Starmer et al could, for a time at least, present the most harsh and even outrageous critique of the government, with the PM’s only option to be reactive or to slowly reintroduce the daily press sessions, complete with journalists in the room. It’s a win-win.
Starmer is famously ‘forensic’ (although this is not always apparent from his responses at PMQs beyond some performative shows of lawyering) and this would give him the chance to dig into figures, stats, policy and personality.
It would certainly beat a push-up contest with the PM (who I doubt can get past five).
The Government’s crisis comms policy on Covid-19 has been a disaster. I have seldom seen crisis communications done more worserer (yes, I know that is not a word – but I didn’t want to swear). Even Comical Ali had a shred of credibility.
It started off as a mix of rumour and briefing chosen journalists, in the hope that their ‘government source’ stories would nudge the population into action. Instead, it just made them panic-buy loo roll.
People called for decisive comms and public information. What they got was an always-late 5pm (ish) daily press conference. They also got what may be the worst public information broadcasts since AIDS was sold as some kind of actual scary monolith with the voice of 1984‘s John Hurt.
These broadcasts feature a random grey-faced middle-aged white man in a tie, who, it turns out is the Chief Medical Officer. Who knew? Well, largely no one if they weren’t a journalist, civil servant or fan of the daily broadcasts. if they’d stuck a white coat and stethoscope on the guy then he may have had some traction. But he already looked a bit peaky, even before it was confirmed he was isolating with symptoms of the coronavirus.
Of course, it is easy to say that this is no time for a celebrity-led campaigns, but it is celebs who are helping to drive campaigns for PPE or free meals for NHS staff. These are not even the really big names. Idris Elba, who has already had the virus, would certainly draw attention to any messages around health or social distancing, whilst any of the TV doctors would far better than an anonymous-looking representative.
Rishi Sunak is the one cabinet member who has come out of this well, so far. There have been declarations of love from lefties, calls for him to be the next Prime Minister and even surprise from these quarters. After all, he performed like a barely-sentient android during the general election campaign. He seems to have been limited to financial announcements, lest he look too much like a natural successor to Boris Johnson.
While the PM recuperates and self-isolates we are faced with the prospect of listening to Michael Gove on a regular basis – a man who couldn’t even make cocaine abuse look mildly distracting. When most memes in your name are about what an unrelatable and disliked oddball you are then you should probably not be sent out to reassure the nation.
On the face of it, the government comms cock-ups are amusing – simply more fodder for Twitter amusement (guilty). But we are at a point where each person listening could save a life. We need clear comms from government officials, but we also need clear public health messages from someone relatable, believeable and who garners respect. You may have your own call on who that is. But I’d be interested to know.
We are all social distancing now. It’s the Charleston of the 2020s. Unfortunately, the messaging on what distance to keep apart has not been that clear. So, here is my idea for a new measurement of social distancing. The Osman. The Pointless brainbox is famously tall at 2.01m, making him an ideal marker. Maybe we can spraypaint his likeness on park pavements or even high streets. Stay safe out there!
Many construction workers would have been sat having their tea or as well-deserved can as the UK government was finally nudged into announcing a lockdown last night. It was something that doctors, unions, ambulance drivers, nurses, service-industry workers and retail employees countrywide had been calling for all week. Some, many politicians included, had been calling for it all month.
But, these same construction workers were left confused and cut-off by the government’s comms policy, along with all those involved in building or maintenance work.
Were they key workers? Was that block of flats necessary? And who is going to pay the sub-contractors and self-employed if the building works cease? What about on-site canteens, bathrooms and handwashing facilities?
Michael Gove sought to clarify and just confused everyone further still. He simply told everyone to stay two-metres apart, having obviously never seen a building site or its workings. But this is fairly standard for this government. Every message has to be amended, re-jigged and sent out again, until it sticks or is withdrawn.
As someone who works a lot in comms for and around construction companies, builders, architects and developers, I am seeing plenty of frustration out there. Plumbers don’t know if they can mend a tap, carpenters don’t know how to stay two-metres away from their mate and brickies don’t know whether to lay down their trowel.
Site builders are more than familiar with PPE and on-site safety, but even that cannot stop the spread of Covid-19, just as it cannot stop the spread on the way in on the trains and tubes. They are inevitably putting each other at risk and others at risk, too. But they need to know that they are financially secure.
Meanwhile, developers and site managers don’t know how and if they can pay their teams of contractors and sub-contractors. If work stops then does their bank pull the plug? Who owes what to whom?
There is now a whole new list of things that those in the construction and maintenance sector need clarification on. A lot of those in the industry are already living week-to-week. They need more than Universal Credit to get by, that is for sure.
For a government that has been accused of being all message and all substance then they need to at least get the messaging right, or the health of the industry and the nation will both suffer.
It’s time to close the sites and provide financial assistance at every level.
The Coronavirus outbreak (or Covid-19 if you want to be particular) has dominated the headlines over this week. There has been speculation, isolation and even legislation, as our leaders attempt to get a handle on how to handle the situation best. We still don’t know what best is, although plenty are prepared to speculate.
We have also seen a large amount of disruption to the world of work and lots of event cancellations to come. I have had three work events cancelled already, including a trade show, teaching session and networking event. In the world I write for, the National Homebuilding and Renovation Show has been pushed back to July and PR Week are running a live blog on the impact on the PR industry.
Elsewhere, activist, campaign and charity groups I work with are planning for medium-term home-working and changes to the way that they campaign. After all, no one wants you waving a petition and biro under their nose when there is a virus afoot. The NHS and others are also turning to social media to get their message across, rather than the noticeboard in the GP’s waiting room.
This shift towards home-working (which is great if you are lucky enough to not be a loo roll delivery driver, NHS worker or care worker etc) could well change our world of work forever. But it also brings a whole new set of hazards with it, from loneliness and lack of discipline to struggles over which pyjamas to wear to the office and how much daytime TV is too much.
As someone who has been a freelance for the best part of 25 years, I feel somewhat qualified to comment on working from home. For example, if you buy biscuits you will eat them all that day. You will become a recipient of all your neighbours’ Amazon deliveries and you will work out the correct angle so that you can Skype in a shirt and your pyjama bottoms. You will also become adept at picking the best Skype background (that bookshelf with the intellectual/business/your own titles on) to impress clients during briefing calls and meetings.
You’ll get more done, but you’ll also feel guilty about taking lunch breaks or walking in the park (you need to walk in the park, believe me). The getting more done is one reason that I never feel bad about quoting a day rate way higher than the pro rata salary for an equivalent staff member, not to mention the savings in National Insurance. Well, that and the fact I’m good.
So, if you need a reliable freelance who knows his way around a crisis and his way around his own kitchen, TV remote and pyjama collection then do get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org.