Aeroplane seen through a reflective departure-lounge window, sunset.
Mixed messaging, talk of quarantine for arriving air passengers, and a brand-new slogan for the war against Covid-19 in the UK. [My picture, and I think I might have been in Toronto.]

So who gets to fight it on the landing grounds?

If Covid-19 wasn’t driving a deadly global pandemic, it would make an excellent McGuffin*.

There was a burst of Politics-19 in the UK last week. The Boris went on the box to tell us– sorry. The Prime Minister gave an address to the nation about progress in the war against the Naz– sorry.

Where we were with the lockdown. He talked about that. Changes. You saw it? Covid-19 and how he was changing the rules of the lockdown and introducing a swingometer-thing to tell us how bad it all was.

A kind of dial, to be found online (I think). Like a fuel gauge. Swinging from “No virus” at one end to “We’re all dead” at the other.

There was a new slogan as well. He might have mentioned it a few times.

We’ve dropped the Five Tests they had for when to relax the lockdown. Because we didn’t pass them. But we do have that swingometer.

The Prime Minister’s Address To The Nation followed a week of media reportage about the changes he was likely to make to the lockdown – to the extent that there were discussion programmes about the changes before they were even made. Just like old times.

But the real treat for nostalgia buffs was the immediate response to the PM’s speech.

“Naah, naah, not listening, can’t hear you, naaah, don’t understand, not clear at all, stay at home, don’t stay at home, completely incomprehensible, naah, don’t understand a word of it,” would roughly summarise Facebook’s response as it came to me.

Then, when we’d all pulled our fingers out of our ears and agreed that we hadn’t understood a word of it, came the sharing.

Three times into my newsfeed on Monday came the same lengthy itemisation of all Boris’s failures over the course of the pandemic. Shared independently by three people, I mean. All familiar names from the 2019 political season.

These long diatribes always have some merit, and no, I don’t think The Johnson is the best prime minister since, um, since … have to think about that one.

The Covid-19 outbreak could have been handled better. We could have anticipated the virus’s every move, and — yeah, right.

Anybody scoring political points based on hindsight should be invited to tell us what to do next — and held to account.

That shared list. Yes, he made mistakes. Yes, there were precautions he could have taken earlier, and that week when we were told not to go out but everywhere was still open … confusing.

But the impact of the list was blunted by the overstretched and wilful inaccuracies.

For example, the words “Boris Johnson misses COBRA meeting” — heard this one before — don’t take into account that it was the Health Secretary who was holding a meeting in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, not the Prime Minister. [It’s a room, people.]

Oh, and the words “Boris Johnson retreats to his country manor” is an odd way of saying that the Prime Minister went to the Prime Minister’s official residence outside London — Chequers — to recover after his time in intensive care.

The man doesn’t have to be a full-time pantomime villain to be vulnerable to criticism.

My issue with the speech was the number of times Johnson addressed the British public as “you”, as in “You” have been very good about staying at home. Well done for maintaining the lockdown.

A trifle de haut en bas, doncha know?

I don’t think “You will fight on the beaches … you will never surrender” would have been quite so effective for Churchill in 1940. Just saying.

As to the new slogan — and here we are discussing the slogan, not the policy behind it — I found the old slogan problematic enough. “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” seemed an odd ordering of priorities, until I grasped that staying at home would protect the NHS so that it could save lives. Ah, got it.

The new slogan — actually, I’ve forgotten the new slogan. “Stay alert,” something, something.

The policy. We reduced the R-number by staying indoors. Now we’re going outside again. Nothing else has changed. Hmmm.

This week, all the media coverage has been about the second wave that hasn’t happened yet. This is either world-class expectation management by the government, or obvious even to the media, or both.

This relaxation of the lockdown is not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.

Now it gets serious.

*Oh, come on, you do. Alfred Hitchcock’s term for the thing that drives the action in a movie. The Maltese falcon in The Maltese Falcon (1941), for example. The stone in Romancing the Stone (1984). Or I suppose you could say, the ring in Lord of the Rings (2001 and onwards for the films directed by Peter Jackson).



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William Essex

William Essex


Author, The First-Novelist's Guide to Getting Started, The Journey from Heaven, God - The Interview, Escape Mutation, Ten Steps to a Bedtime Story.