Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley (picture from Twitter)
Bishops and bloggers find common cause in disliking the language used to talk about Covid-19. Helen-Ann Hartley, the common-sense propelled Bishop of Ripon, popped up on Twitter yesterday to tick off Boris Johnson’s boast that the UK will have a “world-beating” virus tracing system ready by next month.
“Why do we need a ‘world-beating’ anything?” Bishop Hartley asked in a tweet. “If we’ve learnt anything in recent weeks it’s how important collaboration is, between communities and nations. It takes humility to work with others, grace and wisdom to know when to ask for help…”
Boris Johnson’s government is far too keen on such Brit braggadocio, rummaging through the dressing-up box of old uniforms and dragging out Second World War metaphors by the scruff of their khaki collar.
As Bishop Hartley says, we don’t need a world-beating anything. More important, I’d have thought, to have a Covid-19-beating system. ‘World-beating’ means nothing, but is the sort of empty boastful phrase some politicians cannot resist.
The Daily Express, a newspaper that seems to live in that dressing-up box, is at it this morning with a splash story bearing the headline: “We must win obesity war for the sake of the NHS.”
The paper maintains the prime minister is leading by example as it features a photo of him in “workout gear” – otherwise known as shorts and a T-shirt. He also appears to be carrying a laptop, so whether he is working out is open to question.
Whatever, drop the war metaphors. You can’t have a ‘war’ on obesity. Instead, to use the modish phrase, you nudge people towards making better choices; it’s a long slow process of gentle education, not a bloody war.
War metaphors are easy, and war is a typographical convenience, a very short word for something that often takes a long time.
Still, my attempt to shed a measly half-stone or so looks set to take as long as a war, as three runs a week are making little impression. And bless my legs bishop, but those runs take longer than they used to.
Sometimes it is the job of bishops and bloggers to point these things out. More widely, of course, it is the job of journalists to point these things out, although the government and its supporters aren’t at all happy when journalists start asking awkward questions – even though that is their job.
In Ireland they call this self-serving call to put country first “putting on the green jersey”. It refers to Irish governments covering things up with that patriotic jersey.
Boris Johnson tends to pull out a union jack jersey, and a hurt face, whenever journalists ask penetrating questions. Donald Trump shouts “fake news” at reporters and calls them horrible people.
Both leaders use chaos and distraction as a way of diverting eyes from difficulties. Trump’s favourite method is to come out with some outlandish statement – “I am sticking golf balls up by ass to guard against Covid-19”, or some such – so that all the journalists run off and write about that instead of whatever monumental cock-up he has just made.
The Tories have in the past used what is known as the “dead cat strategy” when a minor distraction is introduced to turn eyes from something important.
Attacking journalists is understandable sometimes, especially when partisan political editors invent bogus stories about Labour leaders, as explored here the other day.
But in a broader sense, journalists are working tirelessly in this crisis, producing newspapers, TV news shows and radio news magazines under tricky circumstances.
Politicians such as Boris Johnson might not always like the questions reporters ask, but they’re only doing their job. As too sometimes are bishops and bloggers.