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.