As I See It: Steve Sampson
“Bring Britain Back”. Now there’s a slogan. A clear message to the nation – it’s time to come out of lockdown. If you’re English that is. Memorable too – we’re starting the long climb out of darkness. A table thumper.
On the other hand. “Stay Alert”. Eh? I know it’s a short order brief – but that is appalling. No direct message, no call to action, confused, instantly forgettable. Crap. As a former editor told me rather unhelpfully one day:” Stop sending us down your sh*t, we’ve got enough sh*t of our own”.
Right from “flattening the sombrero” to ministers impersonating daleks every evening, it all looks shockingly amateur, rushed, ill-conceived.
Whoever is running the communications strategy needs to go the Alastair Campbell playbook. Tony Blair’s henchman was the consummate pro, ran the media message with a rod of iron. No journalist was under any misunderstanding – if Alastair said it, print it. If anyone leaked he snapped their legs. Including MPs on his own side who were given their lines by bleeper. The message was unequivocal.
He saved the monarchy during the Death of Diana. Got The Queen on track. Came up with the epitaph of all time with the “People’s Princess” line for Diana.
This isn’t about being trite. Get this wrong and the government could kill tens of thousands more. Trite is “flattening the sombrero” – that early Johnson quip.
The slogans have to be backed up with real actions – Trust The People. The House of Commons was the right place to deliver his new message. This was the equivalent of a mega Budget speech, he should have commandeered the dispatch box, delivered the new direction with gravitas. Instead, he blundered with his Sunday broadcast, handing pasty-faced Sir Keir Starmer the high ground.
The stakes are extreme. One of our leaders is going to be very right or very wrong. Nicola Sturgeon has made her dislike, distrust and political enmity startlingly clear – Boris Johnson is dangerously wrong, a fool. She couldn’t be clearer.
She had better be right, the natives are restless. The emergency mega hospital The Jubilee in Glasgow – capacity 1,000 – has fewer than five patients. Ayrshire has seven or fewer in ICU, there are 5 or fewer in the Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Forth Valley, Highlands, Orkney, Shetland, Tayside and Western Isles. A total of 75 patients in ICU for the whole of Scotland. People want to get back to normal. The young especially are prepared to take a chance, believe they will get Corona and recover.
In England fewer than 1% of deaths in hospitals have been under the age of 40. The risk of opening schools is even smaller. Just 11 people under the age of 20 have succumbed to the virus. The vast majority of deaths have been among people 65 and over. Nearly half of those were 85 and older. Now there’s a clear message – protect our old people. Keep them safe, stay indoors.
The Swedish government never really bothered with lockdown. They have just apologised for not doing enough to protect old people, most of their deaths among the over-70s. Next worst hit has been migrants. Other than gatherings of over 50 people being banned, their economy has remained open.
Sturgeon’s single career ambition is over. There will be no “IndyRef 2” in her lifetime. Or anyone else’s. The Welsh have no clout, neither (happily) do the Northern Irish.
Boris is the only leader who can claim victory. He blustered his way to an extraordinary General Election victory on a simple Brexit message. Now he needs to sod the scientists and get on the pulse of the people. He has a chance to redeem himself, win the fightback. Drop the bad slogans, trust in the judgement that made him a winner.
Otherwise Corona will kill a lot of people who never caught it.
Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications including The Daily Record and Sunday Mail. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. He is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.