With a lock down looking increasingly likely can we trust our politicians? Has our divisive political system destroyed the credibility of our political leaders?
Tackling the coronavirus crisis is as much about trust as it is facts. We need to have trust in the actions of the scientists, government and leading politicians that they are doing everything they can to protect us and that they are giving us all the facts. There is a suspicion that we have previously been getting the edited highlights.
It is very difficult for Boris to get the message right. Too tough, too early and he caused a panic- with hoarding, not tough enough and he gets lots of criticism and the opportunities get missed. It's both a health crisis and an economic crisis - all rolled into one. That made it very difficult for him.
Simply put, Boris is between a rock and a hard place. Announcements started cautiously with reassurance laced with a sprinkling of tougher messages. Quickly followed up, by one or two advance briefings to key media. Pre-publicity, leaks, and editor's comments, seep into newsprint and onto our TV's preparing us for tougher news. A week ago it was self-isolation for 7 days, now it's up to 4 months (for the elderly and vulnerable), shortly could be 6 months and possibly a lot longer. What is certain from the 24/7 news coverage- our society will change forever.
Unfortunately, these are not normal times. There is no clear end on the horizon. As a result, other countries are doing it differently. President Macron in France has gone straight to the lock down with a sweetener of 300 billion euros to support local businesses. Only time will tell which approach is best - the sock it between the eyes approach of France and Spain or the more softly- softly British approach. I think we'll get to the same place, in the end.
We need the political elite to come together in both national and local government to address the crisis we're facing. It's a chance for the establishment to start redressing the trust and credibility deficit.
I would argue that for political parties - the stakes are high. It is a big opportunity for Boris to demonstrate clear and unequivocal leadership. It is also an opportunity for other political tribes to be seen fighting a common (invisible) enemy. I am not suggesting that we don't need an opposition- we do. What is beyond question - is a need for a national and local consensus. In these circumstances the public will never forgive political bickering - which would be in sharp contrast to the "British spirit" flourishing in these uncertain times. Well done to all the charities and volunteers who are making plans to support the elderly and vulnerable in their communities.
And for our part, we, the public need to put aside the mistrust of political messaging and cynicism about public life that has built up over decades. We must follow the Government's advice - no matter how inconvenient. It is a matter of life and death. Everybody is trying to do their best for us in very difficult circumstances
And in answer to the initial question- has a lack of credibility undermined the message? In the early days yes -but now that everyone realises the seriousness of the situation- no.