Covid inquiry: Daily Mail wanted people back at work to revive sales – Johnson aide – The Guardian

Document reveals James Slack’s messages about article prompted concern from Matt Hancock
Boris Johnson’s top media official said the Daily Mail’s eagerness to get people working in offices during the first Covid lockdown came from being “desperate” to sell newspapers, according to documents released to the official inquiry.
James Slack said a Mail headline in April 2020 predicting masks could allow people to return to work was spurred by a desire to revive its circulation figures. He had previously been the paper’s political editor before working for Johnson in No 10.
The comment, which was part of a series of WhatsApp messages, prompted Matt Hancock, the health secretary, to reply in block capitals: “WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH MASKS TO SAY THESE THINGS.”
In the exchanges on 16 April 2020 Slack, who then had the role of Johnson’s official spokesperson, and later served as his press secretary, also disparaged a Daily Telegraph front page headline, which said: “No end in sight for lockdown.”
“Have a look at the Telegraph front page,” wrote Slack. “They’re financially desperate and it’s making them write desperate things.”
The messages were sent late in the evening, after Dominic Raab, who was the foreign secretary, had led the daily Covid press conference, and when the front pages of the next day’s newspapers were being posted on social media.
The Mail’s front page, which featured an article headlined “Wear a mask in the office”, predicted that mask use, then not recommended outside healthcare settings, could permit a swift return to physical workplaces.
Slack, who is now deputy editor of the Sun, responded to a posted photo of the paper’s front page saying: “They took their lead from the press conference. Geordie [Greig], the Daily Mail’s editor at the time] just desperate to get people back to work and buying a copy of the paper.”
In a series of subsequent messages, a seemingly worried Hancock wrote: “Talking about this before we are ready risks taking masks from nurses and social care workers who really need them. It is self-indulgent and dangerous. I am ramping up purchasing as fast as we can.”
He added: “We must hold the line on masks – or they will go like loo roll.”
In another document released by the inquiry, a leading behavioural scientist said that warnings from government experts about potential “behavioural fatigue” if a lockdown was imposed too early had no basis in research.
Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, who was a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Insights group on Behaviours (SPI-B) group, said behavioural fatigue “is not a behavioural science term”.
In her witness statement to the inquiry, Michie said that despite this, it was used by ministers and some other scientific advisers as a reason to delay lockdown in 2020, “with negative consequences”.
She added: “SPI-B was not asked for our views on the notion of ‘behavioural fatigue’. Had we been, the response would have been was that there was not such a concept in the behavioural science literature, not in published evidence, nor in theories of behaviour, nor in measurement.”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top