It is bootless to expect politicians – still less the people who devise their public messaging – to entertain a lively sense of irony. So I suppose it hasn’t struck the “weirdos and misfits” tasked by government to hatch a “Listen to Nan” campaign that there is anything even the tiniest bit outrageous about co-opting seniors to follow the Queen’s example, and spread the message about Covid vaccination to the heedless young.
What’s wrong with that cosy and eminently wise slogan? one might wonder, if one were a ministerial slogan-coiner. Well, let me count the ways. So soon after the brouhaha over the recent “Stay at Home” advert, which featured women (but no men) doing household chores, and was hastily withdrawn after the Prime Minister’s spokesperson confirmed that “it does not reflect the Government’s view of women”, it is curious to find “Nan” tasked with tweaking the consciences of vaccine-resistant youth. “Pops”, presumably, was thought to be too busy in his potting shed, planning next year’s crop of giant leeks, to participate.
While we’re on the subject, isn’t “Nan” a term that fast-tracks you straight into the patronising interior life of the 27-year-old Spad who came up with it (and whose own rather racy grandmother insists that he refer to her as “Gigi” at all times.).
But the real cheek of this campaign is its belated discovery that the old are not, after all, a dispensable commodity but have a useful role to play in society. I know a week is a long time in politics, but can it really have slipped the mind of the Government’s brightest copywriters that as recently as this January, the DHSC issued guidance that patients could be released directly from hospitals to care homes without retesting for Covid – a revisiting of a policy described by the human rights group, Amnesty International, as “throwing a lit match into a haystack”?
More than 20,000 care home residents died during the first wave of the pandemic. The consequence was an awful lot of young people deprived of a “Nan” who – if the Government had placed a higher value on elderly lives at the time – might now have been around to counsel her grandchildren on responsible healthcare measures.
Fortunately the older generations, having lived long and seen much, are a forgiving lot, whose affection for any vaccine-sceptic grandchildren would, in any case, override their resentment at yet another tone-deaf government campaign. This late-blooming ministerial revelation – that the over-50s (a demographic that includes several members of the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister) are not mere useless mouths, but have the wisdom, stamina and experience to make a valuable contribution to our post-pandemic national recovery – should prompt a radical policy rethink about the place in society of older people.
No policy change will replace the thousands of grandparents carelessly sacrificed to the virus. But as the Chinese sage, Lao Tzu remarked, “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” Perhaps the Government should begin this particular journey by finding a less patronising term to describe women with grandchildren. I’m sure celebrity grandmothers Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jade Jagger and Anna Wintour would be happy to help come up with something a bit more elegant than “Nan”.