“There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on a dining-room table… everyone will shout ‘Jeez mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!'” summised Boris Johnson when discussing Lynton Crosby’s ‘dead cat strategy’ during the 2015 election. The principle is that saying or doing something outrageous will draw unwanted attention away from the politically damaging, pushing real debate into obscurity. During the run-up to May 2015, this took the form of Michael Fallon’s blistering and excessive attack on Ed Miliband in which he claimed that the would-be Labour Prime Minister would “stab the United Kingdom in the back”. Fallon’s comments were delivered a day after Miliband pledged to crack down on tax-evading non-doms, a policy which had real potential to appeal to Middle England. The Daily Telegraph, perhaps sensing the tactic, amplified the grotesque diversion of this dead cat by making Fallon the feature of their cartoon in the comment section the next day. As a result, Labour never made the impression on the public that it had hoped to with its anti-non-dom policy.
Only yesterday, it was revealed that the free school meal programme, initiated as one of the first social reforms of the Liberal Government under Asquith, will be rolled back in the upcoming spending review being conducted by the Treasury. This will undoubtedly leave many of the poorest students in the country, who already on average lag behind their wealthier classmates, hungrier and with a further limited capacity to learn during their crucial years of schooling. You do not need to be a bleeding-heart liberal to see how destructive and counter-intuitive this particular cut is, especially at a time when tax credits, which prop up the incomes of impoverished working families, have also just been condemned. However, the acts of David Cameron that everyone is talking about are not those inflicting further hardship on the poor and indirectly limiting social mobility, but the fact that he once drunkenly put his genitalia into a pig’s mouth and smoked cannabis with James Delingpole. It’s politically irrelevant- this is the kind of thing that taps into the public’s imagination of what students get up to- but it’s humorous and captivating and has nothing to do with the agenda of the current government. If anything, it could bolster the public perception of Cameron by giving him a Boris-esque lively outrageousness that the electorate adores.
The biography which reveals these roguish deeds is being written by Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott. Even if the former is no longer a Conservative Party peer, he is unlikely to ever want to see the likes of Jeremy Corbyn in office, and neither is the former Political Editor of the Sunday Times. Delingpole, who informed Ashcroft about his recreational drug use with Cameron, is a right-wing journalist who most certainly holds a similar opinion of the new Labour leader. Given that Corbyn’s primary attack on the Tories during his first week of leadership is that they are “poverty deniers“, the cutting of free school meals and tax credits offers the perfect starting plot on which to begin building the anti-Tory narrative. In distracting everyone with these revelations, Ashcroft, Oakeshott and Delingpole have successfully undermined any foundations which Corbyn and his shadow cabinet may have laid. Progressives have taken the opportunity to flog a well and truly dead horse by highlighting once again the decadent frivolities of Etonian Dave at Oxford, even when the public have shown resoundingly to not care in the slightest about the particulars of his upbringing. All the while, no one speaks up for the families which have suffered one crushing financial blow this week and are set to be on the receiving end of another in the near future.
Quite a formidable dead cat, by any standards.