Nightmare on Downing Street – part 1 was published here yesterday


Who, in their right mind would think that having a succession of boring middle-aged middle-income earners pontificating on national TV would pass without comment, particularly as they keep pushing their diet of doom and gloom, misleading statistics and all the rest onto a public used to multimedia advertising and marketing?

Somebody needs to look back to 1982 and the Falklands War reported by Ian Macdonald (who incidentally died last year).  His deadpan and factual delivery calmed, it was said, anxieties that the British intervention would end in disaster.

Which is more than can be said of the way in which the same civil service has managed Covid crisis communications. Anecdotal evidence suggests to me at least that most communications from government, NHS, PHE and all the other quangos is now seen by many as anything but reliable or factual and viewed in the same way as grandparents would have viewed a broadcast by Lord Haw Haw during World War II or, one lady told me: “I wouldn’t trust these people to tell me about tomorrow’s weather forecast, never mind the Covid pandemic.”

Who, for goodness sake, came up with ‘herd immunity’ with its connotations of a bovine-like herd wandering around unable to think for itself and or take even basic precautions. Telling the population that they are part of, or indeed just a ‘herd’, was never going to be popular or work.

Do communication and behavioural change experts not live on the same planet as the rest of us?  Do they never look around?  Everything is now styled and designed to perfection, from cars to clothes, from homes to furniture, from kitchens to food, everything is designed for a statement, a statement that says, well a couple of things really, ‘look at meeee’ and ‘look, I am an individual.  I am not one of a herd and I am an individual.’

Which of course is far from the truth.  We all do it.  We all follow the herd in all sorts of ways.  Three blokes on a TV programme tell us what cars we should drive and off people go and buy one.  Houses for sale on various internet sites are invariably individual homes or a collection of individual country homes, although with the latest designer kitchens, older homes too, complete with minimalist furniture styles, the same decor, laminate tiled or wooden floors, hidden lightening, bedrooms with TV screens fixed to the walls, patios with huge barbeques, minimalist gardens, all screaming something, and the word is not ‘herd’.

Why not ‘community immunity’?  It has a nice catchy ring to it and it suggests that we are all in this together.  Whatever your status, real or imagined, we are all part of some ‘community’ or other like it or not.

Things may actually get worse before they get better.  As I write, much of Europe is again in more stringent lockdown, as is New York City.  It could well be that after Christmas or the Festive Break, another wave of infections may well hit. Just how that is handled remains to be seen, if particularly as more and more people become alienated by government diktats, and after Christmas two things usually happen: the bills arrive on the doormat and the weather and dark winter nights take their toll on optimism and patience.

One thing that anyone in business will tell you is first know your customer. This government, despite all its resources, seems not able to decide who they are or what their customers – you and me – think.

Like poor managers devoid of any ideas they keep trotting out the same mantra, a bit like the ‘Green Cross Code’ that was used to persuade children, not always successfully, to cross the road safely back in the 1960s.

Right from the start of the pandemic, the public have been treated like children to be frightened by the thought that the NHS would not cope.  Everyone was in danger, the exhortation to stay safe and clap for the NHS followed by slogans, something about staying safe and keeping distance, childish and puerile cartoons – just who they are aimed at is anybody’s guess; it’s certainly not adults.

But there then is the problem to these experts in behaviour modification.  The great unwashed, that’s you and me, apparently can’t be trusted to make ‘informed decisions’ and act responsibly, probably because you can only make an informed decision if you are given access to how the information is put together and, more importantly, have confidence and trust in the source, both sadly lacking. Many have now concluded that ‘this lot’ don’t have a clue as to how this is going to play out, and to be fair, people worldwide are starting to question the global narrative.

The longer this goes on, the bigger and tougher the questions and decisions will become. Nobody is suggesting that any politician or leader will have all the answers but there is apparently little idea of how the country, if not the economic reality across the world, will look in, say, another year.  Vaccines may only be part of the answer and many people will not willingly take up the offer of it, particularly given how this government has managed everything else.  There are real concerns about the effectiveness and safety that need addressing sooner rather than later.

Look past the rhetoric and consider this for a moment: If your life depended on what these people are telling you, would you meekly accept your fate or get another opinion? Would you check some facts?

Many would have you do no such thing. Is that because they feel that you won’t like the answers to your questions and would much prefer you to go along with the herd?  It looks very much like that.

Or is it that adults have forgotten how to behave as adults, make decisions and stand by them?  Three generations after the end of the Second World War, many have forgotten that adults take responsibility for their actions and that actions, like words, have consequences.

Look at the generation of politicians and leaders of three generations ago. You could see in their faces and demeanour that they had actually had to make decisions, often having no choice but to take advice from others who did not carry the responsibility but knowing full well that they had actually to live with the consequences.

In its way this crisis, unlike other manufactured ones in the last 75 years, will define not only this government but the nation as a whole.

Will the country as a whole come together and work as one as it once more or less did?  Or will this just hasten the end?  Presently the omens are not good; the generation that ‘built it back better’ after the second world war, whose children destroyed a lot and also improved a lot, are not now the decision-makers.

Over the last 30 years a not-so-subtle change has come over this nation.  It’s a nation more used to and expecting to carry on the good times, often without a sense of duty or responsibility and often not knowing the difference between what is nice to have rather than what is must have.

Time to grow up and get real.  Fairy tales never happen in the real world, even at Christmas.

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