Cummings and Goings

The rules of lockdown have asked a great deal of all of us. Loss of freedom, physical separation from loved ones, the difficulties of combining work, domestic duties and childcare without the usual help from teachers, grandparents or nurseries.  And, of course there are those for whom things have been much worse, those who have suffered the loss of friends, parents and even children and have been unable to say goodbye or to receive or offer physical comfort.

What’s amazing is that most people HAVE done what they’ve been asked. They’ve done the unthinkable. They’ve mourned alone. They’ve struggled with their mental health alone. Celebrated birthdays alone.  They’ve juggled young families with work…. if they’ve been lucky enough to still have work. They’ve gone without things. They’ve stayed at home. And, what’s miraculous from a psychological perspective is the majority have done it without the level of enforcement we’ve see in other countries. The military have not patrolled our streets to force us to stay home, we just have.

Why? Trust.  Trust that the advice and the guidelines we were given were for our own good, to protect us all.  And that’s why the actions of Dominic Cummings and the government’s assertion that his actions were ‘justifiable and reasonable’ could be the biggest threat to our new normal.  Because although, as a parent, I have sympathy for the panic that may have ensued when he realised they might be getting ‘it’ and needed childcare support, there are more holes in his story than in the average swiss cheese.  If it is true, then I need to find me one of these amazing children that doesn’t need the toilet once in five hours. And I’d love a car that has such an impressive miles per gallon performance.

If you reach the sane conclusion that Dom’s story is perhaps a bit of a tall tale, then from a communications perspective the government have scored the ultimate own goal, potentially undoing weeks of work reiterating important key messages. One of the most important rules in effective communications is not to insult your audience.  The assertion by the Prime Minister and other senior government figures that it’s the truth implies that the audience is, well, a bit thick. Nobody wants to be made to feel like that.

We’ve talked before in our blog about the fact that sometimes in a crisis the best form of communication is honesty and a heartfelt apology, and, in this case, I do believe it would have made all the difference. People would likely have been annoyed, but those who are parents and still juggling work would have probably forgiven the lapse in judgement and understood the panic.  However, the government’s response has managed to make a mountain out of a mole hill and the results could well be more costly than annoying future voters.   How many will decide to bend and stretch the rules now because well, ‘if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.’  Trust in communications amidst the biggest public health crisis we’ve ever faced is hugely important, but at present, the lies just keep on Cumming.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist)

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