There was much debate last week about whether Cameron`s disgraceful "bunch of migrants" comment at PMQs was a slip-of-the-tongue, revealing the true character of a prime minister whose mask had slipped, or a more calculated remark, with a deliberate objective. Certainly, there is plenty of evidence in support of the former, especially as so much of what Cameron normally says during those televised sessions is carefully scripted, the anti-Corbyn rants in particular. The Tory leader has form, too, with last year`s "swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean" remark, showing similar disregard for the plight of desperate refugees, suggesting that this time he got carried away in his eagerness to score a political point, in what he clearly regards as a jousting match.
On the other hand, Cameron was having a hard time, with the "unelectable" Labour leader having ninety per cent of the country behind him with his attacks on the "sweetheart" deal with tax avoiding Google. A controversial remark, albeit one with racist undertones, would divert attention away from the very simple fact that tax avoidance by multinationals is okay with this government, and comments about it being "morally repugnant" are merely rhetoric. It wouldn`t be the first time the Tories ended or postponed criticism of their actions in this way.
Diverting attention of the public away from what is really important is the signature "dead cat" tactic of the Tories election strategist, Lynton Crosby. They paid him £2.4 million, and gave him a knighthood, so they clearly aim to get their money`s worth!
Throwing, metaphorically speaking, a dead cat on to the dining table has one notable and relevant effect. Boris Johnson, who also employed Crosby as campaign manager during mayoral elections, described it like this: "the key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, Jeez mate, there`s a dead cat on the table", and talk about nothing else, with the previous topic of conversation successfully having been forgotten. In political terms, it can lead to politicians escaping an analysis of their actions by well-informed critics, and instead, as in Cameron`s case, still facing criticism but for an action which can be more easily excused, as a "mis-speak" or other such noinsense,
The same manoevre was behind Michael Fallon`s attack on Ed Miliband a mere ten days before the last election, when polls were beginning to show a Labour lead; he suggested Miliband would not only scrap Trident, but also do a deal with the Scottish Nationalists. No points for guessing what dominated the media`s coverage the next day, or for accurately describing what happened to Miliband`s very popular pledge to crack down on non doms` tax avoidance!
All of this would suggest that, under this administration, we have a "dead cat society", where Tory politicians and their allies in the media do their utmost to prevent attention focussing on anything which might indicate, for instance, that the so-called "long-term economic plan" is failing, that Osborne`s targets are being missed, and that Tories in government actually borrow more than Labour. Does the country actually need a discussion on the merits of mothers wearing pyjamas to take their children to school, when there are far more important issues needing to be tackled? Is it really essential to have front pages devoted to the activities of would-be celebs behaving badly for a television programme, when a debate is needed on whether to spend £100m on weapons of mass destruction? Then there`s the exploitation of private tenants, the Tories` Trade Union Bill, the rising costs of HS2, and the existence of the mythical "northern powerhouse", to mention but a few.
With a record like this, and an ambition to shrink the state back to 1930s levels and privatise just about anything with value, Tories will be using Crosby`s strategy more frequently in the coming months. Labour MPs need to ignore it and stick to their task of attacking the government for its cruelty, duplicity and for its creation of a "dead cat" society.