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Opinion: “Greatcoats on – Greatcoats off!”

Published on: 2 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 3 Nov, 2020

By Martin Giles

Private soldiers have ribald comments for many situations and “Greatcoats on – Greatcoats (*******) off!” is the one reserved for when they get order, counter-order and counter, counter-order in quick succession.

When that happens, even in a fast-changing world, one can feel those in charge have lost control. Confidence in leaders can swiftly vanish, faster than loo rolls off a supermarket shelf.

Of course, I am talking about Covid and the most recent change of direction on Saturday (October 31). I say most recent, here is a selection of some of the others where the handbrake was sharply applied leaving a smell of burnt rubber:

School meals voucher scheme;

Coronavirus contact-tracing app (first version) plans ditched;

England’s A-level and GCSE results U-turn;

U-turn on face coverings in schools;

Extending business support U-turn; and

NHS surcharge for overseas health and care staff.

There was also at least one necessary U-turn that was not made. We were told passengers could come to the UK during lockdown, from even the most-infected countries, without testing or quarantine, while we who live here were being warned not to travel to other parts of the UK.

On top of all that we have a “Track & Trace” system which seems to do neither effectively. A friend who dutifully downloaded the NHS app told my wife she had been alerted to isolate for just three days because the “automatic” warning had taken 11 days to get through.

All this is against a background where efficient online advertisers seem to know what we want to buy almost before we do.

Anyway, back to Saturday. We had just published a story warning readers Tier Two was looming for Guildford and what that might entail, and I settled to watch the rugby when we suddenly heard the PM was going to make a statement.

Thanks to the outstanding efficiency of the GLS (Government Leaking Service, far better employed on Track & Trace), we all knew he was going to announce a further lockdown. That was to be at 4pm, er, no make that 5pm, er no, sorry, “sometime later”.

I wondered if they had beaten their own record and decided on a U-turn even before the announcement.

Or, was Boris delaying state business because, like me, he was watching the rugby? Fair enough, in my book. But the missus was not happy. “This could clash with Strictly!” Blimey, she was right. Things had to be really serious.

The briefing came and went, much as anticipated, although presenting graphs that didn’t fit the screen was a new low.

But I suspect you, like me, are not trying to find reasons to criticise the government. Making some of these decisions must be tough. Lives will be lost one way or another. We do understand but we want to have some confidence those in charge know what they are doing.

So some “grip” is required, some consistent messaging, some strategy we can understand, some simple, enforceable rules to live by.

There are only so many times the troops can be told to take their greatcoats off and on again before they shrug, about-turn, and march off thinking they might as well decide for themselves.

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test One Response to Opinion: “Greatcoats on – Greatcoats off!”

  1. RWL Davies Reply

    November 4, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    Sensible comment. I commend it to Ms Richardson.

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