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Clarity has been lost and now we’re all facing too many questions and uncertainties again

PUBLISHED: 11:26 12 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:04 12 May 2020

Prime minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing at Downing Street. Credt: 10 Downing Street

Prime minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing at Downing Street. Credt: 10 Downing Street

Editor David Powles believes a sense of clarity has been lost in the last few days and the government needs to put that right.

We’re all, no doubt, experiencing great ups and downs at the moment, but I think the period I most struggled to get my head around and cope with everything that has been going on was the week before lockdown was officially announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

At the time it felt like we were in this weird halfway house, where some people we’re carrying on as if nothing was wrong - hence events like Cheltenham Races still going ahead - while others had effectively already placed themselves into quarantine.

At work I tried my hardest to get the message right on the front pages of the paper and in the many stories we write - while also fielding the concerns and questions of staff, understandably wondering how it was going to effect them and how they should best operate.

Meanwhile, at home, every one of us tried to work out what the new normal was and how we should live our lives safely.

I remember, in particularly, being stressed about an upcoming trip with the wife to London to see a show at the Royal Albert Hall. I genuinely had no idea whether we were safe to go, or should have cancelled the hotel there and then and just stayed at home, even if it did go ahead.

I’m sure hundreds of thousands more we’re making similar judgements.

The problem then was that, until that historic Monday evening lockdown address, no-one had any real idea of what was best to do. The guidance from the government was vague and at times contradictory.

All I wanted, while I tried to get my head around all the other pressures going on, was for some of those decisions and stresses to be taken away from me. For the country’s top brass to lead and provide clear guidance for us to follow.

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Eventually we got it. History will tell whether it came too late and how many lives that may have cost, but following on from that Prime Minister’s speech, every single one of us knew what the plan was. Stay home, save lives. Simple, easy to understand, easy to follow and therefore effective.

However, in the last week or so, those early on feelings of anxiety and confusion have started to creep back in. The last week has not been a good one for Boris Johnson and his government as, day-by-day, the message has become confused, twisted and bent out of shape.

This came to a head on Sunday night in an address that I can imagine students looking at in years to come when critiquing good and bad examples of leadership from the very top.

Now, I don’t want to criticise the government for the sake of it. What a terrible job they have right now, I’m certainly not sure I could do any better and I do not envy them one bit.

However, I do know that, to unveil a plan in a short address like the one Boris did - and then to not have the in-depth and in full documents to release with it - is simply the most basic of mistakes. It left too many people with too many questions, that took too long to be answered.

The Prime Minister may stand by his new ‘Stay Alert’ slogan, but I’m not sure any of us really knows what that means in practice and the next week or so will be interesting to see how people have interpreted the new vision. Once again we’re faced with making a lot of judgements and big decisions ourselves.

All of this begs the question as to exactly what role the PM and his team should play at this moment of the crisis? No-one wants this country to effectively become a police state with none of freedoms we’re normally used to enjoying. Some freedom to choose how you live should remain.

I also agree that not every scenario or aspect of people’s lives can be factored in, accounted for and explained. That means we do all need to take responsibility, show common sense and refrain from doing something that could genuinely cost lives. I would advise anyone that if they are unsure of whether they should do something - that probably means err on the side of caution and don’t. Not yet anyway.

However, I do expect our government to lead from the front and set a clear direction that we can all follow. That has fallen by the wayside in the last week.

In the next one the PM and his team need to put that right.


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