It was a very out-of-character thing for Jersey’s Chief Minister to do, but these are out-of-character times.
Senator John Le Fondre spent an hour and a quarter on Tuesday night answering questions sent to him by islanders on Twitter using the hashtag #AskTheCM. Hundreds upon hundreds of people posted their questions during the day, many more being sent during the Q&A itself.
He got through just shy of 60 questions in his 75 minutes, but the format exposed the restrictions of his choice of platform.
60 answers sounds a lot, but when each is around one sentence long, it would have taken less than 5 minutes for him to answer them if it was done face-to-face. In effect, it was a highly inefficient use of his time.
The lack of detail, or nuance, or context in his answers, because of the constraint of Twitter, and indeed the one-way nature of the event gave no chance for any follow up questions - especially when a number of his answers didn’t actually answer the question.
But - and it’s an important but - this was the Chief Minister attempting to engage with people after days of pressure from both the public and the media to be a bit more visible and show some leadership.
His communications team sent out a picture of him sitting alone at a computer, with the questions pouring in on a big screen. In reality is seems he had some help with his answers, as the giveaway signature on his tweets showed they were being answered from three different devices. Not a problem, but something to be aware of.
So, what did we learn?
Well not much, really.
Are we getting antibody tests? “We’re exploring options with a range of suppliers.”
How will lockdown end? “We’ll look at how we can transition back to normal life in a staged way.”
Why not close the ports? “Closing the ports will not mean the virus won’t spread.”
You previously said the majority of islanders will need to contract the virus. At what rate? “We have been clear that our plan is to flatten the curve of the infection rate.”
Can we give our nurses a pay rise? “Our nurses are doing a fantastic job.”
Will you make the modelling from your experts public? “We have no plans at present to make this modelling public in its entirety.”
When will our on-island testing be up and running? “We have made this a priority.”
For many of those, the obvious follow up would have been… “you didn’t answer my question”.
And for those who didn’t get their question answered, Senator Le Fondre said the Government Twitter account would be answering “all” the ones he didn’t get around to. That’s quite a job for somebody!
And, the Chief Minister said he would do another Q&A session on Twitter again “soon”.
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