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Coffee House

Is the Tory Trident row an example of a ‘dead cat’ strategy?

9 April 2015

3:06 PM

9 April 2015

3:06 PM

Are the Tories throwing dead cats into the election debate? This question only makes sense if you recall Boris Johnson’s 2013 description of a strategy deployed by an ‘Australian friend’ of his:

To understand what has happened in Europe in the last week, we must borrow from the rich and fruity vocabulary of Australian political analysis. Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as “throwing a dead cat on the table, mate”.

‘That is because 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, 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.’

Labour sources wonder whether this Australian friend has had a word or two with the Tories about their election campaign, and whether this could be why Michael Fallon decided to accuse Ed Miliband of someone who, being capable of stabbing his brother in the back, might stab the whole country in the back by shacking up with the SNP and dropping his party’s support for Trident.

It’s certainly difficult to see today’s intervention as anything other than a way of moving the debate on from yesterday’s row over non-doms: if not a dead cat strategy, certainly a ‘look over there at this exciting new thing!’ one. Which amounts to the same thing, in the end.

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