The Blog

Political communication: The impact of mixed messages

It’s Sunday morning and Prime Minister Boris Johnston is on the Andrew Marr Show.

He’s urging parents to send their kids back to school.

Then, just 34 hours later, comes Monday evening.

And Boris is telling parents to keep them at home.

At least until February mid-term.

Is it a fast-moving virus?

Or a slow-moving PR machine?

I suggest the latter.

Consistent inconsistency

political communication, boris johnson, pandemic response

The virus is spreading at a rate that most countries struggle to contain.

But communication should always be under control if done properly.

The mistake was for the PM to make such a certain stand on Sunday.

Only to front up exactly the opposite message a day later.

But on this point the UK  government has form.

In July, Boris was against making the wearing of face masks in shops compulsory.

Matt Hancock was in favour of it.

And Michael Gove went on Andrew Marr to say it was down to individuals to decide.

The following day, the government made it compulsory and told rebels to expect a £100 fine.

Political communication in a pandemic

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Who would be a politician in this particular period of history?

But then again, who would be a football referee?

When fans rail against the men in black, it’s because of inconsistency.

Booking one player but letting another off with a similar offence.

Our politicians need to be like good referees.

Consistent in their decision making.

Avoiding the mixed messages.

The Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish Governments have made a better job of being consistent in recent times.

And the results, in terms of public confidence in their leaders’ decisions, are stark.

What consistency helps you do

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At Pink Elephant Communications, we believe consistent communication to be imperative in building trust.

It’s also vital when running a company, organising a charity, leading a public sector team and dealing with clients.

We need to say what we mean and mean what we say.

We believe it so much, it’s printed on every coffee mug we give clients.

Clients we’ve continued to work with thanks to our e-learning Pink Elephant Academy.

I understand that this pandemic requires quick decision-making and rapid action.

But what’s emerging from Downing Street is bet-hedging combined with mixed messaging.

We’ve all been remarkably patient in coping with Covid-19.

As well as the restrictions it’s placed on our lives.

For people to believe in their political leaders and continue following tough rules, those running communications at Downing Street need to up their game.

And produce messages that last more than 24 hours.

It’s a matter of life and death.


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


Photos by UK Prime Minister / CC BY-NC-ND on

Political communication blog written by Bill McFarlan.
Political communication blog edited by Colin Stone.

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