The death rate in the United Kingdom from COVID-19 is, per capita, one of the highest in the world. Here, I examine three ways in which the UK Prime Minster, Boris Johnson, has communicated to the UK population the actions that are necessary to deal with the pandemic. Using principles of discursive psychology and Bakhtinian analysis, I consider how Johnson’s descriptions discursively construct the government’s actions, the actions that are required of the population, and agency for reducing the spread of COVID-19. Relying on metaphors of war, claims to follow the science, and expressions of concerned advice, Johnson’s communications are shaped to manage the accountability of his government and himself for varying potential outcomes of the pandemic, allowing them to take credit if their efforts are treated as successful but to attribute responsibility elsewhere if the incidence of COVID-19illness and deaths continues to increase.


© 2021 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Cite as

McVittie, C. 2022, 'Shaping the UK Government’s public communications on COVID-19: General, follower, other?', Qualitative Research Reports in Communication. https://doi.org/10.1080/17459435.2021.2017333

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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