Stayin’ Alert

In the UK, the Government has decided to ‘update and broaden’ the message in the battle against the coronavirus.

Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives.

You might very well interpret that as broadening the range of options for their exit from a predicament that is becoming more increasingly more hazardous by the day. Indeed, could it be anything other than that? If – as some official, mealy mouthpiece has suggested – Stay Alert means that we should all still stay at home, then why even bother rehashing it?

Stay Home was after all most specific. The drawback is that it was too successful in many respects. Folk are at home pooping bricks when the construction industry needs them out laying them. While some have been out in chav-clumps with their barbecues and white cider, there’s a new challenge with those who will be reluctant to shift even when the restrictions are lifted. And the truth is, the Treasury needs people up and running and earning well before any official lockdown laxative is applied.

So, the revised soundbite is not nebulous by accident. It means whatever you want or need it to mean, and it opens up the path to freedom of choice.

The subtext of ‘broaden the message’ is always a call to audiences that they now need to make up their own minds about which way to go. Messages get diluted when communicators don’t want to make commitments either way. When it’s your government talking amid a crisis, then alarm bells should be ringing. It means they’ve stopped leading.

We’ve knee-jerked into a jam from which there’s no plausible exit. This wooliness will allow the Government to continue to play the benevolent advisor while taking the first steps to pulling its fiscal chestnuts out of the fire. Its ambiguity is its creative spunk – it prepares the way to bump-start some sectors of the economy without having to present a rationale for any grand re-opening. The re-start will happen only when it is abundantly clear that the virus has subsided, and there is a verifiable truth. It’s retrospective rule par excellence.

This ‘soft re-opening’ is a cake-and-eat-it move from an administration insufficiently confident to compute data in order to sail forth on a wave of informed risk. In post-fact worlds, taking ownership is a particularly perilous enterprise. Responsibility, and credit are taken, as blame is apportioned, after the event.

Consequently, creative writing has become a skill more prized than analysis and effective decision-making. It’s all about the story of the past that justifies the support for the future, not any meaningful, fact-based analysis.

In practice this amounts to a que sera philosophy. Let’s open up possibilities and see what happens. And whatever does go down, our elected representatives can hoover up any plaudits and blowback any blame.

In general terms, staying alert is arguably the most relevant advice that we’ve received to date.

Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’; And we’re stayin’ alert, stayin’ alert

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