Lynton Crosby, the architect of the Tories 2015 general election win, is credited with having established a campaigning tactic known simply as “the dead cat”. It’s remarkably straightforward to explain: you plunk a dead cat on the table. Then everyone discusses the dead cat; some say he was alive before he hit the table, others say he is a fake cat designed as a conspiracy. In the end, what no one will forget is the dead cat itself.
The whole furore over whether or not Corbyn would or wouldn’t bow to the Queen at the ceremony that saw him sworn into the Privy Council is one of the best examples of the dead cat trick I’ve ever seen. And the left of centre media have played a greater part in the whole thing than any Tory spin doctor could have ever dared hope. Because if anyone has gone on and on and on about not only the “bowing question” to the Queen, but at the Cenotaph as well, it is the Guardian.
In campaigning, it can be very tempting when your opponent says something ridiculous, untrue or both to rebut the notion with all of your might. Sometimes that can be the right thing to do, but it rarely is. Usually it is best to shut your mouth and say nothing – because talking about it more is precisely why your enemies brought the whole thing up to start with. Because once the thing is argued to death all anyone remembers is the thing itself.
So with the bowing thing: all anyone who isn’t obsessed with politics is going to remember about it all in three years time is that Jeremy Corbyn didn’t bow on Remembrance Day and didn’t bow to the Queen when he joined the Privy Council. Even if parts of that recollection are actually totally untrue. There must have been some truth in it for everyone to go on and on about it for weeks, right? And perhaps the Daily Express has a point when they say Corbyn hates Britain if all that is true, I guess. You can see the dead cat emerging already.
So the next time Jeremy Corbyn does something ill-advised (blink and you might miss it), those in the left of centre press who feel warmly towards him would do well to not drone on and on about the whole affair, but rather give it all a miss. The dead cat trick only works if you fall for it.