The rookiest of all rookie errors when you are a complete novice at anything is to try to impress an audience in circumstances that invite a direct comparison of your performance with that of an expert. When Boris took his momentous decision last week to opt for the self-display of a prime-time national television slot for the announcement of his Covid-19 exit strategy yesterday evening, he must have know that his speech to the nation would be following a mere three days after the Queen’s similar speech on VE Day. But he allowed his hubris, as so often, to get the better of him.
The similarity was limited; the contrast between the monarch with 68 years experience in the job and the prime minister with a few months could not have been starker. Where the Queen exemplified poise and dignity, Boris’s hyperactive body-language undermined the intense earnestness he seemed to be trying to project as a counter to his usual reputation as a buffoon. The continual jerking around of his balled fists conveyed the impression of a retired prize-fighter who has been punched far too many times in the head, knows that those round things at the end of his arms used to be useful for something or other, but can’t remember quite what it was. Someone had at least brushed Boris’s unruly hair for him for once, but I suspect that that was more by way of a visual aid to what he might mean by a key component of his new slogan, “Control the virus’’, than because he thought it would enhance his credibility.
The new ‘don’t stay at home’ slogan as a whole goes: ‘Stay alert, control the virus, save lives.’ As a seminal message to the nation this doesn’t quite cut it: nobody knows what it means, apart presumably from Boris and the ministerial stooges who have been trying to explain it to the world this morning. Hence the need for a visual aid. However alert one stays oneself, the virus remains equally alert and stays perversely invisible, so one can’t actually control it by wrestling it to the ground. Nor can one punch it with those balled-up fists. The change in key messaging, and the content of the speech itself, were clearly not run past the people who should have been consulted, including the trade unions and even the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Island. In fact, so undeserving of a prime-time address to the nation was the shiny new slogan dreamed up by our English Nationalist cabinet that the First Minister of Scotland has said she has no idea what it means and has acerbically requested the UK Government not to advertise it in Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland are also going to stick with ‘Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save lives’ because they, like everyone else, at least know what that slogan means. Was somebody talking about ‘chaotic disasters’?