THE government’s latest injunction — Stay alert, Control the virus, Save lives — has come under instant criticism as providing ineffective advice.
Compare it with the earlier slogan: Stay at home, Save lives Protect the NHS.
This is a very effective piece of propaganda if by this we mean a slogan that directs people to concrete courses of action by appealing to universally accepted moral imperatives and widely held values.
A Conservative politician once remarked that his party was forever hobbled by its fierce opposition to the establishment of the National Health Service.
The NHS, he ruefully suggested, is the closest thing the British people have to a secular religion.
So how, then, do we evaluate a slogan that abandons as its priority the call to protect the NHS and substitutes for the clear instruction to “stay at home” a vague instruction to “stay alert?”
This is a government with an unlimited propaganda budget and an obedient mass media. It is led by a man who, in his rise to office, has transcended the manifestly negative impression his personal conduct gives, the opposition his ideology engenders and a promiscuously opportunist political posture to position himself as a prime minister presiding over a government with a 50 per cent favourable rating in public opinion polls.
This is a party that has at its service the most “creative” advertising professionals that an advanced capitalist economy devoted to selling us things we cannot afford and do not need can procure.
If you think this slogan is an error of judgement, a mistake by an inexperienced publicist or a simple accident of the moment, then Keith Stoddart at the Morning Star Fighting Fund, has a very serviceable bridge across the Clyde available for sale at reasonable rates.
This slogan is perfectly configured, precisely targeted and completely coherent in its objective.
It is designed to lull us into a false sense of security, downgrade in our personal list of priorities the protection of our NHS, substitute for a clear sense of direction in our behaviour an ambiguous and infinitely flexible signpost that in weeks to come will allow us to accommodate almost any personal behaviour short of physical intimacy with every stranger we meet.
Ignore the advice that medical professionals and epidemiologists offer, convince yourself that Richard Branson has a personal interest in your wellbeing, drive deep into your unconscious mind the fact that Britain has the highest Covid-19 incidence of deaths per head of population, and you might think the people who dreamt up this slogan are on the ball.
If on the other hand you don’t trust Tories and think they prioritise profit over our wellbeing, then consider what your personal reaction should be and what working people might collectively do to protect us all from infection.
Labour’s reaction that the “stay alert” messaging risked people acting as if the lockdown was lifted goes in the right direction.
But Labour needs to abandon its hitherto overly passive approach and give a clear lead that changes in the management of the crisis are not simply the prerogative of government or at the disposition of employers.
Labour must insist that health and safety at work falls squarely into the sphere of responsibility of trade unions and that individual workers have the right to refuse to work in dangerous conditions and that trade union representatives have the power to stop the job.
The battle to beat this virus is not to be won solely in hospitals, by administrative action or by vague moral messages. It will be won by resolute action that puts people before profit.
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