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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Show comments
  • Bodkinn

    Haven’t the lefties been successfully using the ‘racist’ word in this way for years. you can safely put money on them finding an excuse to use it in any debate where they are being bested. Although any word will do if you are prepared to redefine is as derogatory. How about ‘bunch’.

  • Richard Fellows

    This article nearly got it right, but like everyone wildly underestimated Lynton Crosby.

  • greggf

    “Let us suppose you are losing an argument.”

    So who is losing which argument Isabel?
    The deciding issue seems to have become austerity, and it’s the Tories who are losing it.
    There may be enough voters who (unwisely) think the Coalition has done enough, will vote Labour for a “modest” increase in public spending and an end to cuts/more cuts.
    This is what Lynton Crosby must have noticed.
    Note: Labour back Trident but seem to question the need for four submarines.

  • Lina R

    How can the Tories be messing up this campaign so badly? They’re facing a weak opposition, an unpopular opposition leader and the economy is picking up (admittedly slowly). Most people still blame the Labour party for messing up the economy, for largesse in the welfare state and mass immigration, but the Tories still don’t know how to cut through to the public.

  • John M

    It’s all very well stopping the other side landing a blow but as with so much in modern politics none of this is really doing anything to make a case to the voters to actually vote conservative is it? Look at the polls…

  • WillyTheFish

    So that’s why my cat gives me occasional strange looks!

  • Bonkim

    Fallon is an embarrassment for the Conservatives – not too bright either for a Cabinet post.

  • smilingvulture

    I always thought it was the economy stupid

  • paulus

    I think your missing the point Isobel, the muscle and the heart of the Labour party the very legs they stand on, that make them a party of government is made up by a phalanx of men who will be small c conservative, and the defence of the realm will absolutely non negotiable.Where absolute loyalty is prized above everything. Thats the difference between a party of government and a political party.

    We know they never would and they know we know, but placed in the position of relying on the SNP would he hold so firm. And that is the doubt.

  • The Masked Marvel

    What? How desperate are you to sweep this under the carpet? Fallon had it right. It’s Labour and the Left who are resorting to unsavory tactics. Try this angle instead.

    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 shout, “Racist!”

    Or, in this incarnation, “Anti-Semitism!”

    If you’re going to cricitise what Fallon said and what may or may not be a party strategy, at least have the guts to print Lynton Crosby’s name instead of this roundabout hint.

  • John Traynor

    Lynton Crosby, Malta, tax-dodging….typical Tory gangster

    • Frank

      I would have thought most gangsters would be more competent!
      If you want a list of Labour tax dodgers and spivs, we could start with the Labour Party’s American political guru who hasn’t even got a work permit to cover his job in this dire election.

      • Sharon Fruitcake

        Let us praise all this potential future tax revenue and then forget about it in 28 days time, hey?

      • MountainousIpswich

        Don’t forget the Guardian.

  • kyalami

    It’s sad, so sad …

  • Magnolia

    During the last general election Labour Party supporters ‘pavlov’d’ the Conservative Party over the issue of non-doms with reference to Lord Ashcroft ad nauseum.
    Dave and chums are not going to be roasted by that one this time round but Isabel is thinking too hard with her dead cat or is it ‘dead cat bounce’ strategy because it is perfectly valid to go in to political attack mode during an election campaign and to remind everyone of the quality of the love shown between the two brothers Miliband during the Labour Party leadership election.
    Ed Miliband is Labour’s great weakness and the tories are telling it to the world.

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    Could there … just … be another “explanation” of Michael Fallon’s uncharacteristic effort?

    I reached back to 1953 and Sir David Maxwell Fyfe’s ill-judged (especially for Derek Bentley) attempt to raise his profile as a post-Churchill contender.

  • DomesticExtremist

    Well, the dead cat strategy only works if the press oblige
    by talking about the dead cat – which they have duly done, again.

    Perhaps, therefore, the problem lies with the press for not calling
    out the politicians for so demeaning our politics…

  • James B

    The brass neck of these Tories banging on about defense is incredible to say the least: our armed forces have seen bigger defense cuts over this parliament than ever before, We have the smallest army since records began & if they get back in power after May they plan to cut it even more and this from the party that boasts they are the party of defense ?

    Before Cameron starts anymore sabre-rattling on the world stage he`d be advised to first have the sabre to rattle, The truth is when the world has become more unstable then ever the Tories have decided to cut our armed forces to the bone, And they should stop preaching to other countries about defense when they can’t even guarantee to keep to the 2% of the NATO budget which they promised: the truth is we`re at a stage now where we`d find it hard defending the Isle Of White never mind another Falklands conflict.

    • Boy Charioteer

      I love hippos! Good post too.

    • explain this

      How are you going to pay for it?
      What are you going to buy?
      Where is your broadly outlined strategy if not your costed plan?

      • James B

        Having 4 nuclear subs` instead of conventional forces won’t make much of a difference to Jihad`s running around cutting people’s heads off we need a trained & professional army which the Tories seem to be dismantling !

        • Trini’s dad

          That’s your costed plan ‘mon? Seriously?

      • starfish


        Dont spend money on foreign aid

        I see that india has no problem affording new submarines, or a space programme

        The money might even be spent securibg UK jobs

        • evad666

          Why if you secure UK jobs the workers might all Vote UKIP .

  • Romane Mont

    My worry for the Tories is whether Crosby has ever had success outside of Australia? I don’t know. Maybe he has.

    But the type of election the Tories are fighting is very Australian. Right wing, and obnoxious.

    Does that translate to England? Maybe in 1985, but 2015?

    I realize he had success with Boris. But Boris is a very likeable, talented guy.

    Can any other Tories pull it off?

    • Planet Vague

      I never thought of it like that.
      I always thought Ukip reflected the mood of the clear thinkers.

    • Mynydd

      It didn’t translate here, Crosby was in charge when Howard lost the election.

    • Frank

      “…the type of election the Tories are fighting is very Australian. Right-wing, and obnoxious.”
      I don’t know about “Australian” but the Tories, SNP and Labour all seem to be determined to drag this election into the gutter.
      “right-wing” it is hard to take this seriously, the Tories are the most wet “right-wing” political party in the world.
      “obnoxious”, seriously, you think the tories are doing anything Labour, or the SNP are not doing, have you even looked at what the SNP are doing?
      Boris is a self-obsessed ethics-free walking disaster zone. Hugely wonderful as a journalist, a disaster as a serious politician and hopefully he will never be given a political job where his flaws will destroy him.

    • berosos_bubos

      What is right wing about it ? Crosby’s problem is his lack of cultural knowledge.

  • Romane Mont

    In an election where the Tories are trying to frame Labour as panicky, flip floppy, and shambolic, the Tories really need to be in control of the narrative.

    They aren’t at all

    • Planet Vague

      In a society where Dan Hodges thinks he controls everything, Dan Hodges controls nothing.

      • Guest


        ➢➢➢➢I RECEIVED FIRST DRAFT OF $13000!@ak4:




  • RavenRandom

    Isabel still crying on behalf of Ed. Ed wants to leads us, he is desperate to lead us, he betrayed his brother to get half way there; given that what wouldn’t he betray to get the big prize? It’s relevant as it speaks to the character of the man who would be king.

    • Bob Ashworth

      He didn’t “betray” his brother, he beat him in an election for the leadership of the Labour party. You could equally say David tried to “betray” his brother….. utter nonsense both scenarios!.

  • Romane Mont

    I sort of agree. My problem with the strategy is:

    If you go from sounding stupid on None-Doms, to sounding stupid on Trident. That’s half the week where you’ve sounded stupid.

    Voters may just decide you’re stupid on most things.

    The Tories need something positive, eventually!

    • Planet Vague

      Oh please, Michael Gove does not speak for you?

      • Sharon Fruitcake

        xactly – he has zero street cred.
        He might have a job and might have a good time but only with the boys down on the line.

    • Colonel Mustard

      The only people sounding stupid on non-doms was Labour. I listened to Miliband, Balls and Mahmood and they all sounded incredibly stupid.

      • Frank

        I think that Romane is Tele’s younger brother!

  • ManOfKent

    One thing that has happened is that the SNP have confirmed it has ruled out a supply and confidence deal with Labour whilst Labour support Trident renewal.

  • flipkipper

    Which other piece of sophisticated technology from the Nineteen-sixities is still operational and serves its purpose perfectly without any better alternatives?

    A. the landline telephone
    B. a coal-fired power station
    C. a Mars bar?

    • Planet Vague

      If North Korea were to make a Hollywood style spoof about nuclear ‘defence’ capabilities of its dearest friends in Europe I think I would actually go and watch that for the purpose of lighthearted entertainment only of course. And I wouldn’t tell anyone here I went to see it.

    • Colonel Mustard

      I can assure you that the Mars bar is a cloying caricature of its former self. It has got smaller, softer and more full of sugar. We used to call that a Milky Way. In the old days a Mars bar thrown across the barrack room would make a satisfying clunk as it touched cranium.

    • GnosticBrian

      And your point is?

      All the items that you mention still have their place in the modern world – except that the Mars Bar of today is not a patch on the 1960s Mars Bar.

      Electronic computers are from more than seventy years ago; Tanks and aeroplanes are from more than a century ago; railways from more than two centuries ago; firearms from seven to eight centuries ago; boats are from over 5,000 years ago; edged weapons from 130,000 years ago – all still in use in modern times. These things have been constantly developed and improved.

      • Trini’s dad

        Your trains are still from two centuries ago? That’s right.
        All modern trains and carriages are designed and built elsewhere.

        • GnosticBrian

          Sadly not, the present day trains take 2 hours to get to London Victoria; 120 years ago the same journey took 1 hour – they call it progress.

          • Aberrant_Apostrophe

            And London’s rush hour traffic moves at the same speed as horse and carts did 120+ years ago.

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            From where? Pre privatisation I could do Bristol to Paddington in 90 minutes. Now it takes 105 mnutes.

            • GnosticBrian

              Whitstable. They keep adding extra stops and another 5 minutes here and there; on the old “slam door” stock passengers piled in and out quickly and the units ran 100,000 miles between failures, the modern stock is a nightmare – it all adds up. Then they offer the “high speed” service [at a “premium” price] – 30 minutes by tube from my office. but that goes into Paddington

        • evad666

          As are tanks and the major parts of our air force and we have ships built in Korea.

  • glassfet


    Yesterday’s story was Ed doesn’t have a grip on economics (contradicted by Ed Balls). Today’s story is Ed doesn’t have a grip on defence (contradicted by Nicola Sturgeon). tomorrow will be Ed doesn’t have a grip on something else

    All on the grid

    • Romane Mont

      Today’s story is Glassfet and Mitt Romney both believe if that privately funded, Conservative media, owned by none-doms say something, then it’s real life.

      But it really isn’t

      Tories were battered yesterday

      • Colonel Mustard

        Not on this planet they weren’t.

        • Trini’s dad

          Wait ‘mon. Just five minutes ago you is telling us you is a LibDem supporter. Which planet was dat?

          • Colonel Mustard

            Er, no. I actually said I was considering voting for my local Lib Dem candidate.

            • Trini’s dad

              Your most committed followership will be most displeased to hear that.

        • loveandchains

          Not on your planet they weren’t…

      • MountainousIpswich

        Remember the Scottish election – and the cybernats? They bullied everyone else into submission. They were the only voice on social media. Even the polls started to show that they were winning.

        Result? 10% victory to the Union.

        Just because you see a lot of activity on social media for Labour, it doesn’t mean a thing. Firstly because Left Wingers usually don’t have jobs – so are online 3 times as much, secondly because they bully everyone else off it with their twitter storms and personal abuse.

        Thus it amounts to a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It may appear that Labour got a lot of people commenting on social media. It by no means equals a victory. Especially when their argument was muddled socialist claptrap and would be a disaster for this country economically. As any sane person should understand.

        • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

          Most Tories are retired. Or do I mean retards?

    • Romane Mont

      There’s a vast chasm between what The Telegraph and Sun say and what the public mood actually is

      Even in the Murdoch-dominated era of Thatcher, something like 55% of Sun readers voted for Kinnoch!

      • MountainousIpswich

        And he still lost.

  • glassfet


    Yesterday’s story was Ed doesn’t have a grip on economics (contradicted by his Shadow Chancellor). Today’s story is Ed does not have a grip on Defence (contradicted by his likely coalition support). Tomorrow will be Ed doesn’t have a grip on something else.

    All part of the grid

  • Henryhomer

    If I were paying Lynton Crosby a fortune I might be asking why we were losing the election campaign and having to resort to dead cats at all.

    • Brimstone52

      The only response would be another deceased feline on the furniture.

      • Guest

        ☭➨➨➨➨☭I RECEIVED FIRST DRAFT OF $13000!@ak2:




    • WirralBill

      “If I were paying Lynton Crosby a fortune I might be asking why we were losing the election campaign” ——- You would then be David Cameron and the response would be, “David Cameron”.

      • monty61

        Cameron. And tuition fees (those with teenage kids haven’t forgotten how this coalition has sold their kids into bonded servitude). And the non-doms policy is wildly popular.

        • fundamentallyflawed

          Ban tuition fees (and reduce Uni access)
          Increase apprenticeships in actual subjects (not retail and hairdressing)
          Pledge to not renew trident and use the cash to reinforce existing military forces
          Change in non-dom status
          Stop low wage immigration and make sure that our youth are trained for the jobs we need doing

          Labour would be onto a winner.. but they don’t have the right kind of balls….(just the Ed type)

          *and get rid of Red Ed

          • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

            Renationalise rail, gas and electric too. Plus raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph. Maybe really bold and raise pension age to 70 from 2018 but make it £200 a week.
            I agree Ed ought to step aside. The number who tell me they wish Alan Johnson were leader is growing by the day.

            • fundamentallyflawed

              I dream of an 80mph speed limit. I thought the Tories hinted at the last election they would do it and then let the highways agency put speed limiting “managed motorways” up instead.

    • James

      Crosby’s dark arts has lost the plot – people have real issues and no matter how many issues divert, real issues won’t go away.

      • Yvon & Barry Stuart-Hargreaves

        You are correct. Hardly anyone knows or cares that we have Trident. It is an irrelevance in the modern World. Can’t afford to build it ,can never afford to use it, so why have it? Why modernise it? Putin would be much less aggressive if we didn’t rattle sabres all the time.

        • fundamentallyflawed

          We can’t build it. Need the US to supply parts and expertise (at great cost)

          We can’t build power stations without the French and Chinese either

  • ManOfKent

    Well it looks like Johnson may have a point

    New TNS Poll

    LAB 33% (+1)
    CON 30% (-3)
    LD 8% (0)
    UKIP 19% (+3)
    GREEN 4% (-1)

    The Tory Strategy is not working. This is UKIP’s highest vote share since February and has only been surpassed twice since Christmas and also the highest from TNS since Christmas.

    Dead cats all the way from the Tories I think?

    • Neal

      Don’t worry UKIP will never get 19%

      • ManOfKent

        Whatever you say………

      • Aberrant_Apostrophe

        What? You mean they’ll get more?