Dead cat strategy? Dead fox strategy, more like
Yesterday, Theresa May did something really quite unexpected. Not only did she appear on The One Show and willingly admit that she compliments strangers in lifts – steer well clear! – she also declared that she’s “always been in favour of fox-hunting”. This was despite definitely, definitely knowing that 84 percent of British people oppose fox-hunting. You might wonder: why would she do this, knowing as she definitely, definitely did that four out of five people would find her comments outrageous?
May wasn’t lying – she has always voted in favour of fox-hunting – but she is not an idiot. She knows that if she voices support for fox-hunting, people will be pissed off. This means she is almost definitely engaging in the distraction technique referred to by political bods as a ‘dead cat strategy’.
Dead cat strategies are the specialty of Theresa May’s campaign director, Australian Lynton Crosby, who’s nicknamed ‘The Wizard of Oz’ thanks to his success rate. His ‘dead cat’ technique is simple but effective – Boris Johnson described it thus in 2013: “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, says my Australian friend [Crosby], 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 strategy is used either to disrupt good press your opponent is receiving, or to distract from bad press you yourself are receiving. One recent example is from 2015’s General Election, which the Tories’ campaign director Lynton Crosby ushered through happily with his stock of dead cats. Remember defence secretary Michael Fallon saying Ed Miliband would be willing to “stab the UK in the back” to become PM just as he’d “stabbed his own brother in the back” to become Labour leader? Remember how outraged everyone was? That dead cat churned out tons of headlines and distracted the public from Miliband’s recently unveiled (and actually pretty popular) plan for dealing with non-dom tax avoidance.
‘Dead cats’ provide a short window of relief from headlines you don’t want, and May’s stance on fox-hunting has obscured whatever it was she doesn’t want us paying attention to – Labour’s campaign launch yesterday, at which Jeremy Corbyn made a brilliant speech, or yesterday’s imminent electoral fraud ruling on 15 Tory MPs, 14 of whom have been cleared this morning.
Whatever May was hoping to obscure, it worked – you’re still reading about it, a day later – but we should still call it out for what it is: a cheap, nasty move that speaks volumes about its cheap, nasty party.