TWEAK OF THE WEEK

Alas, poor Michael – we knew him well; we all did. Twenty-odd years’ sterling service to forecasting the weather and all anyone ever remembers is the day he got it wrong – yes, the 1987 hurricane. I can’t help but wonder if Mr Fish has been hired as one of the Government’s endless advisers, providing the info they place such faith in as they map out our collective future. We are now informed it’s okay for us to reunite with friends and relatives in a public space, as long as we maintain social distancing guidelines – though lovers separated for seven weeks by the lockdown are hardly likely to adhere, let alone in a public space. But we can sunbathe! Yes, after a weekend in which coppers desperately sought to exploit the uncertainty of the public one last time by giving it their final Gestapo routine, the rumours dripped into Fleet Street were confirmed, to a point.

When engaging in what has become a weekly ritual of walking a friend’s dog on Saturday, I stepped out into the nearest thing spring has to a heat-wave and found the woods previously reserved for the canine-friendly were beginning to be colonised by ‘others’. These were the hibernating-breaking folk I’d seen online via the videos of those whose careers are built upon deliberately antagonising (and recording) the police’s response to the general public – only, there were no boys-in-blue to be seen; maybe they only appear when there’s a camera present. Anyway, the ‘others’ weren’t doing anything but basking in the sunlight; even if there was never any guideline stating such an activity was illegal, we’ve still all heard about people being moved on for committing that precise non-crime. And yet, there they were, just because it was warm. As I progressed on the dog-walk, I began to wonder how much longer the lockdown could realistically be enforced. The people have been patient, but that patience has a time limit in the absence of signs that give a glimmer of optimism.

Then came Boris again – a month-and-a-half on from his landmark broadcast in which we were told to stay indoors – and he issued an update that appeared to declare it was now okay to spend as much time outdoors as one liked; no longer would our constitutionals be rationed; we could sunbathe without fear of being moved on and we could congregate in groups – even engage in non-contact sports – as long as we refrained from touching, hugging and kissing. A nation cheered and then a nation’s weather took a turn for the worse on cue, hence the reference to Michael Fish; surely only he could be blamed for the alteration in the climate when the go-ahead had been given to make the most of it? No, let’s not hold him responsible for this one. As far as I’m aware, Michael Fish has not been recruited to the advisory panel – nor has he issued any orders for the plebs to submit to whilst he himself does otherwise by receiving his married lover. Perish the thought.

Whereas the PM’s first television address to the nation was clear and unambiguous, his follow-up yesterday seemed like one of those disappointing ‘Star Wars’ sequels that those who care about such things are forever expressing their dismay with – a long, drawn-out build-up fuelled by pre-release hype and then the inevitable anticlimax. Like everyone else, I watched last night expecting to hear some changes announced that would serve as the first tentative steps back to normality; and, like everyone else, I came away not quite knowing where we stand. There appeared to be some confusion as to when those who can’t work from home should or could resume their place in the workplace; some thought Boris was talking about Monday morning; then it was made a little clearer later that he meant Wednesday. Of course, we’re now being advised to avoid public transport and travel to work as a pedestrian or a cyclist; however, unless one happens to live on Coronation Street – where everybody’s workplace is a mere handful of yards from their doorstep – this is easier said than done; and what if you don’t own a bike? I can’t help but feel this has been proposed by people who’ve never had to use a bus to get to work.

Yesterday’s broadcast seemed to confirm the doubts about the Prime Minister many have often harboured, doubts he had seemed to successfully dismiss with his previous broadcast and his own personal battle with the coronavirus. But he appeared all bluster-and-little substance yesterday, delivering a muddled message that left most no more certain as to what they now can and can’t do than they knew before. It probably hasn’t helped that the trumpeted co-ordination between the four constituent countries of the UK seems to have diverged somewhat, with Ms Krankie in particular emphasising that ‘Stay at Home’ will remain in force rather than the more vague ‘Stay Alert’. We can now apparently drive any distance within the borders of England, but should motorists cross into Scotland or Wales, they may well be turned back…I think.

It looks as though schools will still have to wait a month before they can consider opening their doors again, and even if this is initially reserved for infants, the legacy of the lockdown means many parents are expressing reluctance to allow their precious darlings to come into contact with those of other mothers. Considering attending school has been mandatory in England and Wales since the 1870 Elementary Education Act (1872 in Scotland), the fact that parents keeping their kids from school is now being portrayed as optional rather than something punishable in law is certainly an unforeseen development – especially at a time when some parents have been famously fined and threatened with prison for taking their children out of school during term time simply to go on holiday. Or maybe it’s only optional when middle-class parents are the guilty parties?

Businesses, particularly the hospitality industries, didn’t receive the all-clear to begin trading again from the PM – not until July at the earliest, anyway. Some cafés near me have been serving takeaways on the doorstep, and I don’t really see why bakeries and other similar emporiums on a small scale can’t reopen if supermarkets can trade; the same two out/two in rules can easily apply for customers. Indeed, my local branch of discount store Wilkos has adapted to the situation by seemingly persuading their staff they’re actually patrolling the Berlin Wall; the relish with which they have embraced walkie-talkies and mock-military uniforms – and the amusing swagger these novelties have inspired – has undoubtedly made the lengthy queuing process a tad more entertaining.

The locking of the stable door long after the horse has bolted re the new quarantine rules at airports is belated, to say the least, and the mothballing of the Nightingale mega-hospitals due to lack of patients either says the Government strategy has worked – or that the lockdown was a futile exercise from the off. Who knows? None of us probably will until all of this is a distant (not to mention surreal) memory, as in ‘Do you remember when…’ At the moment, however, the luxury of hindsight feels like a long way off.

© The Editor

3 thoughts on “TWEAK OF THE WEEK

  1. Rather like the Budget these days (as opposed to when it was ‘top secret’), the drip-feed of leaks and hints to the press in the days beforehand (usually to test reaction before launching anything) wasn’t helpful, the press had had a few days to set expectations and to set some hares running, also giving the scheming opposition (Mad Ms Krankie of course, not SIR Kier) the chance to prepare their alternative messaging.

    It was also not helpful that his 50-page document giving all the details was not published until almost 24 hours later. But Boris would be constitutionally criticised if he’d issued such detail publicly before presenting it to Parliament – that’s the type of lose-lose that should always be avoided.

    The message was also an adult and subtle one, basically just a nuanced shift of direction: trouble is the hard-of-thinking can’t do subtle and nuance, they want simple black & white rules with all the details in place, so they don’t ever have to think for themselves: adult responsibility is an alien concept these days when so many expect ‘the government’ to do all their thinking for them.

    Boris is also starting to feel a predictable backlash to the over-generous furlough scheme – giving most workers 80% for staying home makes staying home rather attractive, when you deduct the costs of getting to work and the costs of working, you’re getting virtually the same net cash for doing bugger-all, what’s not to like? And now the unions also have a gift of an argument about the Health & Safety implications of any return to work while there remains even the slightest risk from the virus. All things which should have been foreseen but which appear to have been overlooked in the initial ‘do something, anything’ panic of 7 weeks ago.

    Overall I reckon it probably was the right message but to the wrong audience, although it exposes some of the earlier gaps in the thinking which will return to bite Boris on the arse over the coming weeks/months.

    As its actual content was so light, it may have been smarter to have first addressed Parliament today (with the 50-pager by then in their domain and pre-embargoed to the press), followed by an explanatory ‘Speech to the Nation’ backing it up this evening. Maybe they’ll learn one day – but they won’t pay me enough as their communications advisor, so it may take a little longer.

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    1. Yes, the delivering of the message does seem to have been a bit messy; as you say, 50-page doc first and then the TV address. It’s notable in Heath’s Three Day Week broadcast, for example, that Ted begins from a standpoint of already having announced the plans in the Commons that same day, whereas Boris’s team appear to think rushing before the cameras (and hopefully capitalise further on the PM’s post-health scare public sympathy while it lasts) is the best way. But it just came across as a rehearsal for a speech rather than the finished article.

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  2. We all tested negative in the hospital (as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m back in rehab for alcohol addiction). So, it’s a rest of world problem as far as I’m concerned. We don’t want your filthy disease! I’m thinking of putting a comment form into the management here proposing that we declare an independent republic.

    They take our temps twice a day so anyone with even a mild fever will be presumably tested again and isolated.

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