In the run up to the UK General Election in 2015, with the Labour party gaining head steam, the chips looked like falling for its leader Ed Milliband — a doppler-type figure aiming to be somewhere between Bernie Sanders and Roger Ramjet — edging into Downing Street.
Labour’s advisors, following a series of political Harry Houdinis — 100 business leaders were rubbishing Milliband in the conservative-partisan Telegraph — were to play an ace card.
Anyone living abroad, the wealthy and tax evaders, were about to be carpeted. Milliband announced he was scrapping a loophole in the law that enabled “non-domiciled” UK residents to avoid paying any tax on foreign income.
Canny political calculations, his advisors noted, would give Labour at least three days of headlines, effectively controlling the news agenda and picking up more steam amongst the electorate.
The Conservative party knew it too and played one of their most dastardly campaign strategies. One of the conservative’s more respected politicians, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, presented in the media as a mild mannered person, did a Trump. Sorry mate the Brits got their first.
In PR terms it’s called a ‘Dead Cat’, a strategy coined by Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, who was hired to be the Conservative’s campaign director. Simply put, imagine you’re at a dinner with your family. You’re winning the argument about why Bobby, your brother should not be going out with friends in Mum’s car when he’s five times over the drinking limit. Then Bobby puts his hand under the table and the next thing places a dead cat on the table. What happens next?
Everybody stops talking about Bobby’s traits and screams, ‘There’s a dead cat on the table’. For the forseaable future it’s all about the dead moggy.
For Labour, Fallon crowed to the media that Milliband was unfit to be Prime Minister because he had stabbed his brother in the back in winning the party leadership. He couldn’t be trusted.
It was an outrageous comment axiomatic with Trumpisms. Labour knew it. Some advisors, it’s said, even quietly admired the chutzpah. The Conservative’s knew it. And the media knew it too. But the collegiate village-environment of mainstream media couldn’t resist the bait.
Milliband’s initiative had been pole-axed and the media led for a series of days with the Labour leader’s lack of integrity and Fallon’s bromide comments. For as long as Trump’s campaign has been running, the reality TV star who knows how the media function has been placing one dead cat on the table after another. And the media has proved inept to see through them.
Being out of the limelight has its draw backs, so Trump’s dead cats serve to re-orientate the media’s gaze on him, providing him with the oxygen to be nicey-nicey with his audience, play the media victim, shape-shift to his audience’s preferences, before teeing up the next cat.