Jack Lesgrin’s week: Sophistry, semantics and spin on the road to freedom

by Jack Lesgrin

Sophistry, semantics and spin on the road to freedom 

The government’s armoury against Covid-19 in addition to science, medicine, vaccines and public health measures, is messaging. Throughout the pandemic, the importance of communications has become apparent in a good and a bad way. Simple, repeated, consistent messages were effective at the outset of lockdown last March. But when “Stay at home” morphed into “Stay alert”, the clarity was lost. “We’re following the scientific advice” was reassuring but only while the government actually did follow it. The government, much of which graduated from the Leave Campaign Comms School, knows that it is not enough to have a catchy phrase, you must repeat it, even if you create a hostage to fortune such as around how Northern Ireland will trade with the UK without any additional measures.

Thus, all through the various stages of the roadmap out of lockdown, the PM and his ministers repeated, ad infinitum, that they could see nothing in the data that meant that the next step could not take place. As late as 3 June, the PM said: “I can see nothing in the data at the moment that means we can’t go ahead with step 4 or the opening on June 21st.” A few days later, on Monday 14 June, he postponed step four, with good reason, but with hugely damaging consequences for parts of the economy.

He said at that Downing Street press conference that: “As things stand – and on the basis of the evidence I can see right now – I am confident we will not need any more than 4 weeks and we won’t need to go beyond July 19th.” As per the communications posture, this Monday, the Prime Minister said: “I think it’s looking good for 19 July to be that terminus point.” The government leaves itself wriggle room with small print. But the clear impression they give through their messaging, which dissipates outwards via headlines and tweets, is that unlocking will happen at a certain date.

By reiterating statements as above, they allowed the 21 June to develop in people’s minds, and more importantly, in the minds of people running businesses in the hospitality sector, as ‘Freedom Day’, even though it was just the earliest date before which the step could not happen. People might be forgiven for bulk buying salt so that they can take a coal sized lump with each of these statements in future. You never know, but they might start to doubt the veracity of other utterances, such as the government’s official spokesman agreeing that the PM has complete faith in the Health Secretary. Perhaps these statements are only true at the moment they’re said, while in the background the evidence that points in a different direction is accumulating.

Mr Speaker gives PM a frosty dust down, yet there are no mechanisms to make it count

Just before the PM’s press conference, Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, admonished the government for announcing the Covid situation to journalists assembled in Downing Street before announcing it to the people’s representatives in the Commons. “It was disrespectful to the House and to our constituents”, he said.  He was genuinely angry in his statement and said that he had been “misled.” He referenced the Ministerial Code: “the government’s own Ministerial Code says: ‘when parliament is in session, the most important announcements of government policy should be made in the first instance in Parliament.’ The Prime Minister polices the Ministerial Code, he wrote the foreword to it. He must now lead from the top and follow the guidance in it.”

Mr Speaker is appealing to a convention, in the hope that the ‘good chap’ theory of governance will apply. As noted in this diary previously there are no hard and fast rules about these matters. Almost everything concerning how our government or parliament operates is ruled by convention. There is no law that requires governments to announce matters to Parliament first. Almost certainly there should be, but that would require some form of a written constitution.

Later in the week, on Wednesday, the government’s Brexit minister in all but name, Lord Frost, told the Northern Ireland Select Committee of the House of Commons that he was appearing before them “as a courtesy” only. He helpfully explained the situation to the committee as follows: “I say that by way of preamble to make clear that I appear before you this morning as a courtesy. I am very happy to do so, but it is obviously not a precedent for my general appearances before the Committee. Obviously, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is your primary interlocutor. I apologise also for the fact that we only have 90 minutes today; I am afraid I have a pressing commitment at 11 am.” Perhaps this government is more willing to be open about the way conventions operate than its predecessors.

Dark satanic mills of lockdown

Vice-Chair of the Tory 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, Sir Charles Walker, was interviewed on the Today Programme last Tuesday about the postponement of step four of unlocking. Challenged about whether he could  “paint us a picture of how things should work out that would be better” as an alternative to postponement, he didn’t give a precise alternative, other than that “we should be ending the lockdown sooner rather than later.” He is a genuinely thoughtful man, and made an interesting point about the negative consequences of lockdowns particularly for young people and people who live in cramped conditions. Channelling William Blake, he said: “we have many young people chained to their small bedrooms and kitchens. The new dark satanic mills are people working in small flats.” Perhaps the most biting point, well made, was that “most of the people making these decisions around this have very comfortable lifestyles.”

BBC inquiry finds BBC not at fault

Readers will perhaps not be surprised that the internal BBC inquiry on the rehiring of disgraced journalist Martin Bashir, found that it was not at fault.  In other news, a GCSE class all received 9s (A* in old currency) after their teacher asked them to mark their papers.

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6 Responses to “Jack Lesgrin’s week: Sophistry, semantics and spin on the road to freedom”

  1. Tafia says:

    And Hancock will now bite the dust.

    The Sun had sat on this story for months biding their time. The minute the government made quarantine exemptions for the 2,500 UEFA officials, the likes of The Sun were always going to come for a scalp. The ‘Red Tops’ keep a catalogue of damaging stories to publish when they want to bring a politician down and will wait years sometimes for the right moment.

    The only thing that the government has in it’s favour is Labour won’t be able to make direct milerage out of it because one very high ranking Labour MP dumped their spouse to take up with another (married) Labour MP, and the on-going whispers about another high ranking Labour MP and their aide.

    Betting odds on Batley & Spen have shifted a bit as well. Bookies factoring in that this is a northern working class seat, and as a result will be more ‘sensitive’ to the exemptions made for UEFA officials.

  2. Tafia says:

    Cracking storyline in the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror:-

    ‘If Keir Starmer’s popularity was measured in Fahrenheit it would be below freezing. If we were talking in terms of the Batley Frontier ( a local nightspot featuring entertainment), the very bottom of the bill. Under the Grumbleweeds.’

  3. A.J. says:

    Pleased but unsurprised that Hancock has had his feet kicked out from under him. The level of arrogance he displayed is what happens when a government has too large a majority and the opposing parties are seen as divided and helpless. Same under Thatcher and Blair.
    I began laughing at Hancock last year when his silly little face was issuing ‘orders’ left, right and centre. Patel also made a fool of herself.

  4. Tafia says:

    Well the campaign picked up with a-gusto in Batley over the weekend. Turning into a proper, good old fashioned rough ‘n’ tumble traditional northern by-election.

    Muslim activists chasing Leadbetter and her campaign team in the street. There have been several instances where she has shown herself to be unable to cope with heckling etc in public and gettuing all ‘middle-classy’ when cornered, much to the merriment of the predominantly working class locals. Oop North if you don’t stand your ground, even if you get a kicking as a result, you are garbage. There’s more respect for someone who takes a battering and loses than someone who runs away.

    Labour activists – including Tracy Babin, the former-MP and now Pfor the seat and now PCC for West Yorkshire, being ‘egged’, verbally abused and physically attacked in the street.

    Team Leadbetter distributing more leafelts in the Kashmiri areas of the seat showing BoJo shaking hands with the Indian PM, condemning the Tories for their close 0relationships with India etc etc ( ‘Mysteriously’, copies of these suddenly appeared in Labour-held seats with a strong Indian Labour base, such as Leicester East, where the Indian Labour voters are now furios with Labour. Indians do not like Kasmiri seperatism anymore than muslims do).

    Leaflets circulating condemning Starmer/Rayner for ‘taking the knee’. The ‘taking the knee’ thing is regarded as belittling and with utter disdain by ordinary working class voters here ‘oop North’ – and only something that the congenitally disabled, dirty unwashed students, trendy-lefty union activists and southern middle class wimps and other pointless types do. The boo-ing that is going on in pubs and beer gardens up here when England kneel (even by BAME supporters) has to be seen to be believed. And it’s noticeable that at Wembley, the ground plays piped music and fake cheers to try. Labour have completely lost touch with working class football fans up here (of which there are legions locally because of northern clubs such as Liverpool, Everton, Man City, Man Utd and more locally the two Sheffield teams and of course Leeds Utd, over this issue – and that’s before you get top the northern Rugby League fans who are equally openly disdainful of ‘knee-takers’ – and even take the piss out of England fans for having a team that do it.

    Campaigning on a middle-class trendy-lefty closer alignment agenda in a northern working class Leave town is utter idiocy. You could expect that sort of rubbish off marginal no-hoper parties such as the Lib Dems but you would have thought that the once mighty party of the workers would know better than to try that in a gritty, traditional working class northern seat. But apparently not. Their campoaign seems to be running on a somewhat bizarre notion that the ordinary working class will vote Labour out of tribal loyalty (bollocks to that) and therefore it’s the young middle-class and other minorities they need to pitch to. About the only thing Labour can hope for now is that the Germans beat England on Tuesday and that somehow they can convince voters locally that that is Boris’s fault.

    Meanwhile, after a slight ‘wobble’, the Tory lead in the betting not only recovered but widened further. Latest odds are:-

    Tory – 1/5 to win
    Labour – 9/2 to hold
    Workers Party – 12/1
    150/1 bar

    Latest polling:-
    Con: 47%
    Lab: 41%
    Workers: 6%
    Other: 6%
    (everyone bar the top three will definately lose their deposit and even Galloway’s Workers Party are perilousely close)

    The by-election will take place this Thursday.

  5. Tafia says:


    Labour’s former Mayor of Kirklees, councillor Gwen Lowe, has been accused along with her husband of tearing down George Galloway posters in the constituency – to which the pair admit but claim was a retaliatory measure against the Galloway team for removing posters of Kim Leadbeater.

    All video’d of course and circulated widely and splattered all over social and local media. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjxBEMatHKw

    Taking down opponents posters is a criminal offence in an election, and Gwen Lowe and her husband have been reported to the Police.

  6. John P Re says:

    That was a hateful by election
    Galloway should Sue the BBC, the labour council taking his posters down
    And the 2 people who put libellous / quotes, picture portraying him as a violent Islamist

    Rhe by election almost said starmer wasn’t labour leader

    And labour kept the seat
    It didn’t win the seat

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