Populism comms is in full swing

Be kind. Be nice. Useful philosophies to adopt in day-to-day life. ‘Be curious’, ‘dismiss lies’ and ‘challenge deceit’ are also balanced and important principles.

This long weekend has played host to one of the most alarming populist comms strategies I’ve seen play out during a time of crisis.

First off, cause a stir and a divide. Orchestrated with various ‘leaks’ to the media about lockdown easing. A catalyst for VE Day frenzied tabloids and an increase in tension between those wanting a conga street party and those pushing for continued lockdown.

Next up, blissful ambiguity. By saying meaningless words with table-thumping vigour, the government has positioned itself to argue both sides of the fence. Accusations of draconian measures can be batted away with a casual wave of the hand towards the ‘easing of restrictions and messaging.’ Any criticism around easing restrictions too early can be defended with a sideways glance to the complicated small print behind the big bold messages.

This is not incompetence or a lack of cohesion in the comms team. This is a strategy. And one the public should most definitely be alert to.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of this approach has been the speed with which people have rushed to the defence of the Government’s comms team.

‘They’re trying their best’ is a statement regularly touted about over the past 24 hours.

Yes, they are trying their best. And they’re doing a fine job. The difference is that some believe they’re trying their best to communicate rational directions during a pandemic, I believe they’re doing their best at appealing to their base voters, causing division and playing both sides in a bid to push a populist agenda.

Of course, this is an immensely tough communications job. Like many have said, ‘not everyone is going to be happy’. I wholeheartedly agree. The finest examples of leadership and communication during COVID-19 have come from those willing to sacrifice popularity with some in a bid to save lives of others. At no point in time have I seen that brave leadership or communication direction from this Government.

Every piece of comms has been calculated to galvanise the loyal, pander to the undecided and provide foundations to argue the sceptical.

Hancock’s testing speech could have easily been communicated in a way that acknowledged the tremendous effort his team had made to reach a 75k+ figure, while accepting the target was just out of reach. A more honest and perhaps even more powerful approach. Yet the comms team adopted for a fudging of figures and some indigestible workaround messaging.

Boris Johnson’s blustering and pseudo-Churchillian address to the nation was another example of whipping up the fanatics and drowning out the eyebrow raisers.

Lives may be lost in a bid to take a firmer grip on power and populism.

That doesn’t seem all that kind to me.