The Londoner: Alastair Campbell warns Boris Johnson - smarten up your act

Boris Johnson needs to start combing his hair and expressing sorrow, Alastair Campbell advised over the weekend in a blog post on government communications.

The Londoner understands both ministers and civil servants have been poring over his list of 20 suggestions for the Prime Minister’s briefing team as they deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. “Comb your hair before every briefing. This is not a trivial point. In times of crisis, people look to leaders for confidence and strength. If you look a shambles, the fear people sense is that you are a shambles,” the former Downing Street press secretary says.

He urges: “Express sadness and regret at deaths. I can barely remember you talking about the dead and dying. Empathy matters, and make sure it is not formulaic.”

Some civil servants have been dusting off Campbell’s old crisis comms documents, The Londoner hears. Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s communications director, points out that unlike Johnson’s hero Winston Churchill, the PM is not a master of brevity in crisis comms.

“No more homilies and rambles. Factual. Businesslike. When in doubt, shut up,” Campbell says.

He also raises an eyebrow at Johnson telling the country to approach the crisis “sedulously”, saying even he had to look up its meaning.

Campbell tells him: “Stop charging into the briefings as though you are chasing down that boy you smashed on the rugby field in Japan. People want to see calmness.”

He adds: “Stop hitting the lectern as you speak. It buggers up the sound.”

In the wide-ranging post, he suggests the team should consider running the main news briefing in the morning, should use visuals and graphics and should end the “childish” boycott of “certain news channels and programmes”.

Move over Mr Cummings, let the original Dom back in.

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