More confusion has unveiled following the government's new Christmas COVID measures. Tom Bromwich reflects on their decisions and failed communication strategy.

Politics is like marketing: The clearer the message, the more likely the sale. However, with COVID, the politics surrounding Lockdown 2.0 has resulted in sheer ridicule of the government's approach. As we descend from the second COVID spike and head towards Christmas and 2021, the water has been further muddied by a cacophony of government information and patronising guidelines which have brought out my own libertarian streaks from an otherwise conforming conservative cocoon.

Whilst I believe the government has the country's best possible health and economic interests at heart, I find it exasperating that with every new restriction comes a succeeding torrent of public confusion increasingly chipping away at the government's credibility and reputation.

I was recently reflecting on March and April 2020 and the immeasurable sense of national unity. The message was clear: Stay at Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS. It was a mantra that we adopted and adhered to. Why? Because it was clear and concise with fine-print confined to the cases which demanded it (basic food/medicine shopping, one daily form of exercise, going to work only when work was impossible from home).

However, by May this cast-iron plan was unnecessarily weakened and the floodgates of subjectivity were opened for exploitation by the public. The phrase 'Stay Alert', and the updated guidelines on 'working from home if possible but otherwise going to work' prompted the red flag of communications breaking down to fly, given the nuance involved in the latter and the complete abstract nature of the former.

The government has reached a new level of communicative incompetence, characterised by spurious half-baked populism, intrusive blunders, and absolute statements. I begin with the announcement that hospitality venues will reopen to serve a parched public once more? providing that they also have a scotch egg with salad and pickle. I cannot believe that this mouth-watering, yet dystopian plan does anything but invite ridicule. A Cornish pasty is prohibited unless served with chips or a salad, and pubs and bars run the risk of being forced to close should they disobey this regulation. There is unavoidable flexibility in terms of public interpretation, opening up the main problem: Subjectivity.

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When large-scale absolute policies like we saw in Wales and the ban on purchasing 'essential goods' are implemented, then the government has failed at crisis-management. What is essential to one is not for another. It is like comparing Waitrose's Essentials range (which includes Cypriot Halloumi, Set Honey, and Ardennes Pâté) to what I deem essential: bread, milk, vegetables, etc. That is not to say that the whole country should adopt my standards, but that is precisely my point: The government should not encourage supermarkets to literally blockade clothing and greetings cards (deemed non-essential) but rule on what is essential. 3 pairs of my trousers have experienced ripping (in areas where it cannot be passed off as a fashion statement), however I cannot buy what I deem to be an essential product.

We also received Christmas guidance from the government's scientific advisory committee, Sage. Now, parking the fact that Sage relied on Wikipedia to gather intelligence on COVID-19 and its transmission, they are producing ludicrous guidelines on what will be happening behind everyone's living room doors on Christmas Day. They advise against board games and promote social distancing within the house. If someone with coronavirus is in my living room, the virus isn't going to wait for me to crack open Trivial Pursuit to spread. Government advice on not pulling crackers, or playing games, or singing songs, will not prevent transmission when families are packed in together: It is what it is. These unnecessary points create confusion, and when guidance pops up like afterthoughts and determines what occurs in my own house, that is where the public trust turns to public trauma.

No government would want this task, and Boris Johnson's government has done a good job in areas: Extending furlough, providing relief packages for the aviation and infrastructure industries. However, the devil lies in the detail of what is being communicated. In this regard, since May, the approach has been terrible. It seems as though the government is more determined to push the fact that it "backs the Great British local pub" and will "save Christmas" rather than examine COVID's impact on the entertainment industry, including theatres, cinemas, stadiums.

I shan't focus on what should be open or closed, but I believe the government is pandering to an audience which is happier to have a pint than keep actors, dancers, sportspeople in employment. Social distancing is possible in both. It just seems the government has leapt on the chance to notch a few more polling percentage points using the social popularity of pubs at the expense of hanging certain industries out to dry. This inauthentic 'pint'-sized populism has done nothing but invite scepticism over the government's response.

Communication cannot be improved at this point. The government's proclamations regarding Christmas and tier-level restrictions has triggered itself to become tied up with a lexicon of subjectivism caused by ridiculous absolute policies. It has failed to measure the pulse of the nation effectively to benefit most industries, and has eroded the trust that many in the country vested in it.

Simply put, the government has dug itself a trench with scotch eggs and board games.

14 votes

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