Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

‘The unions are back’ declared The Guardian’s headline over an interview with the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady in which she called on the government to establish a new consensus with the trade union movement to help restore the economy.

No wonder there was just a hint of grim satisfaction: a recognition that it had taken a national emergency and countless deaths to turn the clock back to the days when Prime Ministers had to listen to the collective voice of workers if they were to have any chance of governing effectively.  

A vicious and highly personalised attack on teachers’ trade union leaders for daring to demand stricter safety conditions ahead of the phased re-opening of primary schools in England was another unpleasant reminder of the hateful coverage that has become so entrenched in much of daily press reporting.

Amid the devastation of the coronavirus crisis and a looming economic catastrophe, Boris Johnson and his communication advisers remain wedded to media routines ill-suited to a national emergency.

Deeply entrenched in the Downing Street psyche is an addiction to manipulating the news agenda, a determination come what may to trail announcements in advance and grab the news agenda.

Rarely has a peacetime Prime Minister struggling with a national emergency been as fortunate as Boris Johnson in being spared the broad sweep of hostile coverage that proved so debilitating to his predecessors.

Johnson has been blessed with a personal story line tailor-made for the popular press – ‘From death to paternity’ (Daily Mail, 30.4.2020) – and Conservative newspapers have remained his stalwart cheerleaders.  

For a critical two-week period, Boris Johnson’s near-death escape from the coronavirus infection topped the news agenda diverting the focus of much of the daily coverage away from vital, searching questions that needed to be asked about the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Day after day the tabloid press became obsessed with the fine detail of a sensational personal drama, a touch and go moment in the life of a Prime Minister, alone in Downing Street, separated from his pregnant fiancée, Carrie Symonds, also infected by the virus.