The political tactic of the dead cat is attributed to Sir Lynton Crosby. He is the man who helped Boris Johnson become mayor of London and whose political magic is still viewed with admiration in conservative circles.
The theory is simple: whenever the news is bad, very bad for a political leader, he or she simply drops a decaying cat on the political table.
Everyone recoils in shock. The news agenda is abruptly changed – and the politician using the dead cat lives to fight another day.
Johnson’s spooky numbers
As July 19, UK Freedom Day approached, the numbers on the Prime Ministers’ Desk were truly appalling.
Britain now has the highest number of Covid cases in the world, after Indonesia and Brazil. Under Johnson, Britain has ten times more Covid cases than France under Macron, the favorite target of British tabloids such as the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator.
Even Sajid Javid, the new UK health secretary, has warned of 100,000 cases a day. This contrasts sharply with the optimism of the Prime Minister and his sunny speech on “Freedom Day”.
Johnson on the assault
And yet, Boris Johnson has taken the lead. Most of the controls are now lifted at popular places like nightclubs, discos and crowded pubs. Public gatherings without masks will be free to operate as they did before the pandemic.
It didn’t matter that a conference of international scientists held an emergency Zoom meeting and begged Boris Johnson to take the increase in Covid cases under his watch more seriously.
They say lifting Johnsons Freedom Day measures put in place by other countries would have a deeply damaging impact on England.
Out of control
Never mind that the 20-year-old in London is signaling a massive increase in Covid infections, especially among those who made it to the Euro final at Wembley.
There, a very bad police force allowed fans without tickets to rush into the stadium. Others reportedly paid gatekeepers 250 out of the lowest wage allowed to enter.
Yet nothing seems to shake the opinion of Tory MPs led by Steve Baker and his Covid Recovery Group, surely the most oxymoronic group of British MPs ever created – that any continued scrutiny of Covid is a crime against the Conservative view of Brexit in England.
The Labor Party is out of the game. It has no major policy offers on the pandemic – except more and more quarantines in hotels that only the rich can afford.
As Stephen Duckett, former Australian Minister of Health, says: There is no reputable public health adviser who would advise opening up at a time when the virus is spreading rapidly.
From red-baiting to France-baiting
So what does a prime minister do? Change the story.
And this is how Mr Johnson quickly announced that France yes, it still seems that France (throughout history, even more than Germany!) Will now be hit by additional sanctions.
Anyone coming from France by car, Eurostar, bus or plane will now have to be placed in house arrest and pay expensive tests to companies, some of which are linked to the Conservative Party.
The strategy worked. The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Times have gone from disastrous handling of the pandemic by ministers to the madness of Freedom Day to lift public health measures. Instead, the first few pages now focus on ending normal holiday traffic with France.
The reason given for putting France back on the quarantine list is the presence of the beta or South African variant there.
Soft with India, hard with France
It is indeed a disturbing variant if not as contagious as the Indian variant that Johnson allowed into the UK all April when he refused to stop flights from India.
The beta variant has been in Europe and the UK since last year. Public Health England released a report on the South African variant in February. No action was taken then. Flights to and from South Africa and Great Britain continue daily.
If the South African variant was of concern to Johnson, why did he take no action to reduce arrivals from South Africa or act in February when Public Health England released its report ?
The sad conclusion is that Boris Johnson used the political dead cat tactic to make France and its president the number one public enemy for Brexit commentary and the center of all anger for the headlines.
Dutifully following the PM’s lead, the BBC and everyone else say that travel to or through France is being hit hard.
By comparison, no one is talking about the global concern that the end of Freedom Day in public health measure could make England the Covid capital of the world.
Ultimately, everything about dealing with the pandemic in England is political, political, political.
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