Wednesday 24 June 2020 1:52 pm

DEBATE: Was it the right decision to end the daily government press briefings?

Eliot Wilson is co-founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons official
Josh Williams
Josh Williams is managing director of The Draft

Was it the right decision to end the daily government press briefings?

​Eliot Wilson, co-founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons official, says YES.

The coronavirus pandemic changed so much. One thing it brought was daily Downing Street press conferences, at which a senior minister would take questions, flanked by advisers or officials. 

Cue the media careers of Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance. 

But yesterday, after 92 briefings in total, the practice was scrapped.

Good. It was time. The pressers were great for informing the public and imparting a sense of urgency and round-the-clock activity. But we are now (thankfully) emerging from the crisis stage of the pandemic, and looking forward to recovery. 

Stopping the routine meetings will help that: no more grave ministers, anxious doctors, or sententious journalists.

The government has embarrassed itself with clumsy media handling of Covid-19. The message has been confused, the direction unclear, the weighing of the evidence vague. 

Better to draw a line under that phase, and start again in recovery mode. Fewer pressers, better messaging, more consistency. Things can only get better.

Read more: Number 10 will no longer hold daily coronavirus briefings

Josh Williams, speechwriter and director at The Draft, says NO.

Government diktat cannot defeat this virus, because we are the ones who spread it. To influence our behaviour, the government must inform and persuade us — telling us what is safe and encouraging us to do it. 

In normal times, a government communicates policy. In a pandemic, communication is policy.

The coronavirus daily briefings served that purpose — and another too. The government communicated with us, and we also held it to account. Accountability focuses the minds of those in power and forces them to rapidly right their wrongs. We saw first-hand how questions from journalists and the public compelled the government to up its game.

The Prime Minister has now taken perhaps his most difficult decision — lockdown is ending. But this virus is unpredictable. Across Britain the “R” rate hovers just below the critical threshold of 1. Any higher and it grows again.

Lifting lockdown is a risk. This decision demands scrutiny. With clear communication, the risk will be lessened. 

This is not the moment to end the daily briefing. Far from it. We need it more than ever.

Read more: Brits rejoice! The era of black market hairdressers is coming to an end

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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