Remember that incident which led to resignation by a government advisor admitting to using “a good day to bury bad news?” It seems now that ‘dead cats’ – distracting announcements – have become government policy rather than a sackable offence. Whilst the metaphor is said to originate from Boris Johnson’s time as mayor of London, throwing something sensational in front of the media is not new nor exclusive to him personally, though he and his crew have used it almost to exhaustion.
What, for example, does an over-promoted Home Secretary do when faced with a basket of issues far beyond her competence? Does she actually compensate the survivors of Windrush and Grenfell as promised? Does she grip the chaos in the Met police? Does she deliver on reducing immigration? Of course not. She picks on a vulnerable minority – those seeking asylum by crossing the Channel in small boats – and throws into the maw of the ravening press an unworkable, inhumane and ludicrously extravagant deportation system, knowing that it will not work but will win plaudits from the xenophobes to whom her government panders. She looks tough whilst failing utterly in her role. Rwanda as dead cat.
Distracting from the main issues
Kemi Badenoch, in her bid to replace Johnson, attempted to characterise woke people as if they are an enemy rather than merely the more thoughtful element of the electorate. Demonising the altruist, the caring, the cultured seems an odd way to unite a country as a leader should. But imagining and depicting an enemy within is how fascism works: Jews, communists, Ukrainians, all targeted by autocrats for who they are not what they do. Badenoch preferred to focus media attention on toilets instead of the very government corruption and lies which had provided her chance to stand as leader.
The patriotic myth is a form of dead cat. That put about in Germany in the 1930s of the Aryan super-race was about as truthful as the notion that Britain stood alone against the Nazi horde – a myth convenient for the far Right, blanking out the enormity of the efforts and sacrifices of our allies. Such myths create false patriotism [aka nationalism] designed to mask or excuse whatever egregious policies are conjured up to enhance its protagonists’ path to supremacy.
It is arguable that Brexit itself, in its entirety, was a huge political distraction. While it addressed no economic or social ills of the country, it was fed to the media and the people as a panacea. After years of austerity, Brexiteers were able to whip up popular opposition to the EU by claiming that our membership was the cause of the economic woes in the more deprived parts of these islands. Brexit happened but as now clear, it was in reality only the means to a different end: not a country better for its people but a take-over of the state by right wing ideologues and nest featherers. All of the energy, verbiage, anxiety and cost that Brexit has generated has been to distract attention from the deliberate erosion of democratic norms and the power of parliament.
When inevitable truth hit that Brexit brought no benefits, then another dead cat in the form of Covid was thrown to our beleaguered population – so broken supply chains, shortages, labour problems, inflation were naturally blamed on the pandemic.
Dead cats and ‘partygate’
It is possible that for a while, until it contributed to his eventual demise, even Partygate actually suited Johnson. Faced with the truths about the state of the nation after 12 years of Tory governance and three of his own, with no apparent plan to address the matters of urgent concern which were overwhelming him and his third division team, having the media focus endlessly on what could be portrayed as trivia was helpful. Having got away with so much for so long, he could reasonably expect to continue to do so, always hoping like Mr Micawber that “something will turn up” to extricate him [not us] from the hole he was in, as it usually did.
So, when Partygate got too hot with the Sue Gray report, which was published on 25 May citing “failures of leadership and judgement”, Johnson’s government made a u-turn within 48 hours and introduced the windfall tax they had instructed their MPs to vote against the previous week. Furthermore, it would surely not be cynical to point out that the war in Europe has been very convenient for Johnson and his government, as that too can be blamed for our economic slow down rather than Brexit. President Zelensky himself has proved a convenient dead cat for Johnson, who seemed to make a surprise visit to Kyiv or announce more arms to Ukraine whenever he was in difficulty on the home front.
It seems trivial to refer to distractions of these kinds in such a phrase as ‘dead cat’, but that is the point: to focus on the sensational prevents the electorate from realising the full incompetence and self-serving nature that characterises our current government. We ‘woke’ know that, as with the best literature and art, it pays to look beyond the superficial narrative to see the truth behind. Don’t be bought off by the clowning, the shocking or the whimsy. They are not funny or clever. They are there to fool us all and it works all too well.