BY JOHN ISMAEL
The dead cat strategy used in politics and in damage limitation strategies of corporate PR refers to the introduction of a dramatic, shocking, or sensationalist topic to divert discourse away from a more damaging topic.
Boris Johnson summarised the strategy thus: “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”
The man who springs to mind when “dead cats” are referred to is Sir Lynton Crosby, the election strategist employed by David Cameron for the 2015 election, when the dead cat thrown on the table was the idea of a Sturgeon-Miliband coalition running and ruining Britain. And how the UK public focused on the dead cat. They voted Tory in droves.
Crosby later threw the dead cat of Sadiq Khan’s Islamist links on the table in the London Mayoral election of last year but the corpse of the cat was thrown back at him by London’s voters who saw nothing wrong with the Mayor’s law firm’s links and assistance to some of Britain’s worst jihadis over the years. Khan won and Crosby’s Goldsmith lost.
So, this year it’s another General Election and there’s a lot of speculation about wondering what the 2017 dead cat could possibly be, and which politician might be its target.
Could the target be a Lib Dem sex scandal? From Jeremy Thorpe to Cyril Smith to Mark Oaten any party with Liberal in its title seems to have been drawn like a moth to the flame by some form of shocking sex scandal. Might the party whose current leader, Tim Farron, is involved in a squabble about gay sex, be drawn into an exercise of damage limitation in the closing few weeks of the pre-election period instead of concentrating on becoming the “new opposition”? Is someone keeping an eye on Lord Rennard?
Could the target be an SNP one? After all, this is the party which welcomed a Nazi invasion of Britain and has always proven itself disloyal when Britain needed unity most. Is there some funding scandal about to be unveiled? Is flip-flopper Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh going to try and go full circle, revealing herself as a Carswellesque Tory plant (after starting with the Conservatives, then moving to Labour then the SNP, is she heading back home to Theresa)? Or maybe the documentation is there directly exposing Sturgeon as a pawn of Putin? SNP-Russian links are certainly strong and go back a long way, as SNP stalwart, actor Brian Cox, unhelpfully revealed in a recent BBC series called Brian Cox’s Russia. Alex Salmond notoriously defended Putin in the past.
Surely Jeremy Corbyn’s Seamus Milne, the Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, would be a better target for playing the “dead cat” Russian card? Then again, he’s already well known as a mouthpiece of Moscow, allegedly. More likely some Hamas donations to Corbyn’s Labour Party? Perhaps a few Labour MPs switching to the Tories to save their seats in the last weeks before the election in some unthinkable Conservative-Cooperative alliance? Could there be a sudden rush to the Tories by Britain’s Hindus because of Pakistani Government intervention, via a well-known Labour figure, in Labour candidates for London’s Southall? Could it be that Sir Lynton has been paying attention to the Socialist Action “bomb under Labour” articles in Country Squire Magazine? How did Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell pay his way out of that 1992 Terry Dicks libel case about dodgy leaflets? Is Shami Chakrabati going to be overheard dropping the H-bomb over dinner with Red Ken?
The speculation mounts.
Many are doubtful that a dead cat is even necessary this general election. After all, the most Machiavellian Tory political strategist could surely never design a dead cat as damaging to Labour’s Election chances as their man of the moment – Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories to be seen to be helping Corbyn in his merry course of destruction might be interpreted by the electorate as over-egging the pudding.
This could be Theresa May’s Elizabethan election. Better to ride the high plains than stoop to throw dead cats at the electorate. As the Virgin Queen once remarked, “Fear not, we are of the nature of the lion, and cannot descend to the destruction of mice and such small beasts.”