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“I’m suing Waterstones – they had the Lance Armstrong book in non-fiction”. That’s roughly how the joke went. Of course people did actually sue Lance.

by Adam Shepphard

There are now plenty of books, documentaries, even a movie, from everyone involved covering every aspect of the story. Armstrong is occasionally seen, there was a new documentary this week – and he’s even been accused of cashing in on destroying the lives of those closest to him, mocking himself in Tour De Phramacy.

But what does this have to do with communications in a time of Coronavirus? Well there’s one tweeted image that summed up Lance’s response to the world; one massive sofa, one man lying on it, seven framed yellow Tour de France jerseys.

These. Are. Mine.

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Image via Twitter

Arrogance? Sociopathy? Who knows – as I mentioned, there’s a myriad of books and programmes that trawl the depths of Armstrong’s mind and psyche, but his message to the world was clear: I don’t care what you think.

And that brings me to Sunday May in the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street. The crumpled shirt, the turning up half an hour late to his own show like a latter-day politico Axl Rose, the lack of remorse and contrition.  Dominic Cumming’s message to the world was clear: I don’t care what you think.

The parallels are there; mavericks, winners, risk-takers, little time for caring about being liked, and even less time for people who get in their way. The lack of personal empathy both appear to display has been well documented. But how does this sit with the man renowned for tapping into the public mood and providing the slogans that empower and engage millions (and enrage millions more). When you move out of campaign mode the skills of a maverick communicator are put through a more vigorous test; no more bluster and bollocks on the side of a bus, no more slogans and sing-alongs, no more crashing JCBs through polystyrene walls and hiding in fridges. Communications in government, communications in power, communications with responsibility, communications that impact on every aspect of people’s lives, cannot be filtered down into a three-word slogan (although it would make our lives easier if it could be).  Armstrong was destroyed by his hubris. Cummings’ may well have destroyed a government – we wait and see.

Dom already has he feature film. Already has his documentary, although more are sure to follow. No doubt his campaigns will be studied, dissected and analysed for years to come – but has the architect driven the bulldozer into his own design (it would fit in with everything that’s gone before).

At a time of national and international crisis there’s nothing wrong with a maverick approach – it may be the only way to find the answers we need, but what we need those mavericks to do is stay home, communicate effectively, save lives. Or more succinctly; get government done!

Adam Shepphard is Communications Lead for Research and Innovation at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester Diagnostic Technology Accelerator, NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, and NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility. You can say hello on Twitter at @adamshepphard 

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