Positive news about the vaccination programme has been giving most people a well-deserved burst of hope, as England continues to break targets every day with the beast of the pandemic slowly being battled back. However, it is clear there are a number of problems in the government’s lockdown strategy and pandemic messaging that is causing a continued slump in the polls for the Prime Minister’s leadership and the government at large. There is a lockdown fatigue, and that fatigue is not going away anytime soon. The vaccination programme, especially when it is as successful as it has been, should be a turning point in popularity. The public has a negative view of the pandemic handling, but a push to get the vaccines out should mean a slight uplift for the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Yet that has not happened, Boris continues to fall below Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer and Labour continues to enjoy a small lead in some polls.
No doubt many reading this will be quick to point out that Starmer has his own problems, and his lead is quite insignificant. That does not negate the fact that the vaccination programme is a golden opportunity that is being completely missed. I put this down to a number of factors, one being a total lack of direct communication between the Prime Minister and the public. Press conferences are not cutting it, less of the public now watch them and they are often taken up mainly by SAGE scientists and not the PM or his Cabinet. If the public associated the Prime Minister with the success of the vaccine rollout, that association would come from more direct messaging like national broadcasts from Boris himself. And when the PM receives the vaccine, he should show the public that image in the same way the Royal Family should have done. We have to put division behind us, and we can only do that if we show we are all on the same page.
That, however, is just a small part of the popularity problem. It is clear to me that the government is doing nothing to combat lockdown fatigue, by focusing too much on the dark days to come instead of the bright days further down the line. Chris Whitty and company, while well-intentioned in their information divulgences, are keener on hammering home the message that we cannot lift restrictions for a long while, instead of focusing on an end date that the public can focus on. If the government is quite confident that the end of March will see the lifting of restrictions, then they should communicate that date as much as they can. Endless lockdowns make this current one just another roadblock in the path to a normal life. People do not truly recognise that this is the last one. Ask someone when they expect things to come to a close, and they won’t be able to tell you because the government cannot tell them either.
We all know the government cannot be one hundred percent sure on when we can expect lockdown to fade, but vaccinations are going well consistently, which I believe allows for a fairly confident prediction to be made. It is my belief that a Mid-February lifting of lockdown should be the primary target to spur recovery, but I am not optimistic that we will turn the corner that early. If the messaging is not transformed fast, then lockdown fatigue and the mistakes of the pandemic will lead to a bruising in the next election as well as the upcoming smaller elections (devolved and local). There is a lack of hope in the British public, and someone must turn it around fast.