Boris is back and don’t we know it. The blunderpuss of British politics just couldn’t help himself last week when he rushed to make a point to Keir Starmer at PMQs that he would be announcing the next stage of the lockdown management in a televised address to the nation.
The civil service were not ready to publish plans and messaging strategy in four days, but that didn’t stop Boris. Message-testing was through a select focus group of right-leaning journalists; just an average representative sample population!
The televised address was lifted straight from a Yes Prime Minister scene. Full of contradictory rhetoric: manna from heaven for meme creators. Go to work if you can’t work at home. Don’t go to work by public transport. If this was the route to freedom then you’re going to feel your feet are tied up in mess of unravelled threads.
The new messaging – Stay Alert : Control the Virus : Save Lives – seems to be stolen from a B-List Xbox game strapline. Drummed up by Dominic Cummings prize-winning election strategists – if we can fraudulently win a referendum and a landslide General Election, we can beat this pesky virus with our catchy messages. No professional communicators were harmed, I mean consulted, in the making of this soap opera.
The professional civil servants of the Government Communication Service (a pan UK division), then had to go into overdrive trying to make sense of it. Briefing journalists with a handy six-point reference guide as to what Stay Alert means. The latest infographic looks amazingly like the same messages for Stay Home.
Overnight on Sunday, the rest of civil service had to bring forward revised plans to incorporate what the PM had committed the government to do ‘on the hoof’. By the time of the PM’s statement to the House, there were more holes in his plan than Rab C Nesbitt’s favourite undervestment.
Keir Starmer was able to ride roughshod in his prosecutorial style through Boris’s planning: where’s the health and safety analysis? how do workers get to work without public transport? what about childcare and people with caring responsibilities?
By Tuesday, the government’s detailed response: well, you can re-employ your nanny but not let your kids see their grandparents. Never has such an upper middle class perspective been so clearly the viewpoint of the government.
If there are two things that everyone in Scotland should stay alert about, it is the continuing disrespect of devolved institutions and shift towards protecting the rich at the expense of the poor.
The fact that the new messaging and ‘next steps’ plan was not discussed with Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland could not have been clearer. Even the BBC moved to acknowledge that Boris only spoke for England.
The Chancellor though is much slicker and one to watch. He bathed in praise at his furlough scheme. The best and only employment protection scheme in the world he said. But now it is costing money, and his pals are not earning money, the focus will shift rapidly to a ‘return to work’. The scenes of packed London public transport beggars belief on the first day of official ‘back to work’. All the indications are that easing of lockdown, without a fully-tested track and trace system in place, will lead to further spikes. Scotland is right to say not right now. Plus, we may have to contemplate different measures for different localities. That will bring the role of local government back into full focus (whilst they have been quietly delivering the vast bulk of essential services with little mention). Centres of population have got more to prove that they have a plan for safe working, learning and playing. More rural areas will not have the same concerns provided there is little movement between such populations. This is the micro-scale of countries shutting their borders. Towns and villages may have to operate their own mini-lockdown easing rather than expecting government at UK or Scottish levels determining what’s best for them.
The ‘R’ levels – which can only be reliably measured with wide-spread testing and tracing in place – need to be published at a micro-level so that those areas which are safe to do so, can get back to some kind of normality. Just look at the CalMac messaging: if you don’t live on an island or are a keyworker, then you better have an amphibious vehicle because the ferry isn’t taking you. That’s where this is going folks.
Lastly, who pays for recovery? Well we do know that the bankers certainly didn’t pay for their reckless casino lending of the 90s. The poor paid. Cuts to public services, wage freezes and welfare cuts. There are two things that need addressed in the recovery plan: stopping tax avoidance through offshoring and universal basic income. Everyone must receive a guaranteed income regardless of their circumstances to ensure the very basics in life are covered. The evidence suggests that populations with UBI become more entrepreneurial as they can take risks knowing that it won’t cost them their basic essentials. It also ensures that everyone is spending on basic items – food, clothing and fuel – keeping essential trades in business too.
There is so much we have to get right going forward. The Scottish Parliament doesn’t have all the powers but we have to use what we have to inspire confidence that independence can make a difference. After all, we know now more than ever that we are not all in this together.