Below please find key take-outs from our May 20th senior panel with Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI); Lord William Hague, former Foreign Secretary and Teneo Senior Adviser, Deborah Mattinson, Founding Partner of BritainThinks, and Wolfango Piccoli, Co-President of Teneo’s Risk Practice and chaired by Principal of Teneo’s Situations and Politics practice and former Downing Street Director of Politics and Communications, Craig Oliver.
Growing Scrutiny of Politicians and Companies
- For the first time since the crisis, the UK public approval ratings of the government’s response handling are net negative, with the PM’s approval ratings at 7%, Secretary of State for Health’s at -1% and the Home Secretary’s at -34%.
- There is also growing concern over whether Boris Johnson is the right leader to take Britain forward. There is a sense that Johnson is still somewhat ‘invisible’ to the public and that he needs to work hard to regain trust. By contrast, Keir Starmer has shone a light on government failings in a forensic and reasonable manner.
- The public is also judging companies on how they are treating customers, staff and families – and this judgment will have a knock-on impact on how and when we see workers returning to work.
- In addition, the public is now rejecting “cloying comms” from brands or companies that seem insincere, using language in their advertising such as “now more than ever”.
A Return to Normal is not an Option
- Economic outlook is not registering for a lot of Brits who are currently focused on simply getting through the day to day. This will require careful expectation management by the government so that significant job losses and high unemployment rates don’t come as a shock.
- Returning to normal shouldn’t be an option – is what the majority of Brits currently think. Only 9% want to go back to normal and 27% want the country to change for the better.
- Ultimately, Brits feel that this crisis shouldn’t be wasted and that a worst outcome would be going back to how life was before the pandemic.
Existing Issues Brought Into Sharper Focus
- This crisis is only accelerating existing geopolitical trends. There is an ongoing crisis in the European Union, and hostility between the US and China, pressure on oil majors to transition away from fossil fuels, and new dividing lines created by technology.
- The world last week witnessed the deterioration of the US and China political relationship – which is replicating what we have already seen in the technology sector (i.e. Huawei).
- We’ll see more evidence of this as campaigning ramps up in advance of the US election. It is anticipated that both sides will take a strong position on the relationship with China.
- Donald Trump is meanwhile attempting to frame himself as someone who wants to reopen the economy, whilst placing blame on the democrats. A second wave of the virus will be what derails his strategy for success.
- Looking at the World Health Assembly is particularly revealing, and evidences these fractured global relationships. For example, Australia is leading the charge for an international investigation into Covid-19, which was not well received by China.
- In Europe, politics is truly back. In France and Germany, Macron and Merkel have respectively lost public support in recent weeks, whilst Spain is experiencing protests against the government. We are returning to a normal, confrontational status in which governments are facing increased pressure from businesses and the general public.
- The reopening of society is moving very slowly across the board. In Germany and Austria, restrictions have eased, but people are still wary about the easing of lockdown.
- In general, there is more pressure to reopen borders, but the reality is that there will not be robust system of testing, tracing and tracking anywhere in Europe.
- Human tracing has become more fashionable than app usage across the continent. In Greece, 150 police inspectors have been deployed, whilst 16,000 people in Italy have been hired to carry out this role. It’s working particularly well in Germany.