In the wake of the UK government's attempt to communicate its post-lockdown strategy using some controversial and, to some, confusing messaging, communications czar Mark Borkowski offers his take on what is being said by the prime minister and his cabinet, and how.
The famous mantra of hard-nosed political communication is that you ‘campaign in poetry and govern in prose.’ Well, the Tories have campaigned in haiku and are governing in gibberish.
What we saw yesterday (Sunday 10 May) was a communications disaster. Is there anyone that is willing to stand up and defend her majesty’s government’s dodgy PowerPoint played over the sounds of an unfortunate table being firmly pounded by the prime minister?
But I don’t think, as some claim, that this was a piece of conspiratorial skulduggery, I’ve worked in PR long enough to see a PR cockup from a mile away. The first rule in a crisis is that even if the temptation is great, you don’t just speak for the sake of it. That a professional blatherer like Boris Johnson couldn’t maintain a disciplined silence doesn’t shock me, but that the team around him didn’t halt him.
His special advisor Dominic Cummings has made his name with rigid discipline focussed on hyper-short slogans and it works. Although I’ll always prefer 'Yes We Can' to 'Take Back Control', the nebulous stirring staccato of either slogan has to be admired. What a sweet irony that the iron fisted kind of conciseness can’t keep a man who never saw a meaningless digression he didn’t lunge for under control during the most important crisis of our generation. Whoever is in the wheelhouse the messaging has been cobbled together by someone cut and pasting old scripts from The Thick of It, W1A, and Yes Prime Minister.
After the repeated (and often contradictory) press briefings hyping up the statement, it looked as if the extent to Cummings message control was to get Johnson to cut his hair.
It’s the day after and Dominic Raab has already adjusted the date of change to Wednesday so if the message is getting confused between the Prime Minister and the guy who was prime minister a week ago, then how are we supposed to know what is going on? The government is battering own goals at such a rate that Keir Starmer just needs to get out the way, stand there and scratch his head to take the lead.
And if that seems like too much, that the press will support Johnson to come what may then look at The Daily Mail’s landing page. It brings me no pleasure to attack the government at this horrible time, the prime minister needs to get his house in order; conscript the best in class out there in communications sector. In their words, we are in a war – and in wartime we all must do all we can, think differently and reach out to excellence.