Why Boris Johnson’s bluff and bluster isn’t hitting home – Jayne Dowle

WITH all the laid-off creative talent currently at its disposal, the Government should be doing a better job of communicating with the public over coronavirus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside 10 Downing Street, London, joining in with a national applause for the NHS to show appreciation for all NHS workers who are helping to fight the Coronavirus.

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Coronavirus and value of Boris Johnson’s clear communication – Paul Baverstock

The Prime Minister is clearly of the school that if you have something of crucial importance to say, the best course of action is to keep saying it over and over again until it sticks.

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Perhaps his demeanour may evolve now he’s video-conferencing on health grounds. Maybe Mr Johnson’s approach has much to do with the kind of educational establishment that he went to himself. Repetitive pedagogic methods may work well when one is learning Latin declensions, but they are not the way to get through to a general public.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) and Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside 10 Downing Street, London, joining in with a national applause for the NHS to show appreciation for all NHS workers who are helping to fight the Coronavirus.

Every time I hear him say “we all have do our bit”, both before and after he was struck down with Covid-19, I think of the millions of self-employed people waiting five weeks or more for a scrap of Universal Credit. It’s the very opposite of reassuring. So many zero-hours workers have no choice but to go out into danger and earn money so they can put food on the table.

I also think of all the other NHS staff on the very front line of the deadly fight against Covid-19. These mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are in direct contact with sick people and not paid even remotely enough to reflect their perilous situation.

Bluff and bluster are not working, Boris. You need to adapt your strategy to survive. After all, that’s what you’re telling the rest of us to do.

I once heard a wise professor say that we are living in the most visual age since medieval times. Think of how we communicate with each other – shared photographs, Facetime, memes, Instagram. Every editor knows that a cracking front-page picture sells newspapers.

Downing Street handout picture of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the study of 10 Downing Street on a video conference call to other G20 leaders during the coronavirus pandemic.

I consider the professor’s words every time I sit in a particularly historic church. Although the Puritans did away with most of the gloriously Technicolor paintings which once depicted Biblical scenes and morality tales, it’s often possible to see faint outlines on the over-plastered walls.

The message still gets through. It’s a pity that two weeks into the coronavirus crisis, this government is proving so spectacularly bad at delivering its own – stay home and save lives.

Why doesn’t it use personal video testimony to strong effect? There is no shortage of NHS workers willing to share their experiences on film. Also, we’ve all seen those incredibly moving clips of people who have contracted Covid-19 talking about how the virus has left them in fear for their lives.

I had to venture into town on Thursday last week, not an experience I wish to repeat in a hurry. Down the street came a family with five young children on scooters and bikes, laughing and joking like this was the first day of the summer school holidays. Are they listening to Boris? I think not.

Should more road signs be giving out public information messages?

What’s lacking is imagination and the human touch. We need billboards on every street.

Where are the persuasive posters and slogans of the First and Second World Wars? The Government should involve professional marketeers and advertising agencies expert in consumer behaviour and empower local councils to get involved in a coherent and concerted campaign.

For instance, I’ve seen some so-called “public information” missives from our local council that look like something a child would bring home from primary school. I don’t want to see smiley faces on blue bins when I’m being told that collections will be disrupted.

I’m worrying about vermin, actually. And people dumping even more waste by the roadside and in farmers’ fields. I want to see black and white and red, sombre dark navy blue at a push. Here’s a thought; utilise those digital roadside signs that warn of congestion in town centres. Switch them to instructing drivers to turn round and go home unless their journey is absolutely necessary.

I’m no expert in colour psychology, but speaking of navy blue, can’t the Government find any Minister who doesn’t fit a certain stereotype? After two weeks of constant news coverage, I’m finding all these men in dark suits are blending into one talking head.

Call me tokenistic if you like, but I’d argue that we also need to see far more female politicians on our screens. Women are generally able to portray more empathy. Is Mr Johnson worried that they will go off message?

Before Parliament went into recess, Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt told MPs: “Carers, adults in social care, parents of children with learning disabilities and others often feel that they have a fight on their hands at the best of times, and we are heading for what I hope will not be the worst of times.”

Let’s be honest, Boris. That’s what we’re all thinking. It’s time to change the script to reflect and allay the nation’s fears.