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The dead cat political tactic is attributed to Sir Lynton Crosby, the Australian wizard who helped Boris Johnson become Mayor of London. His political magic is still viewed with awe in Tory 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 stagger back in shock, the news agenda is abruptly changed, and the politician who uses the dead cat lives another day to fight.
The “Freedom Day” on Monday is approaching, the numbers on the Prime Minister’s desk are really appalling. The UK now has the highest number of new Covid cases in the world after Indonesia and Brazil. Britain under Johnson has ten times more Covid cases than France under Macron – the favorite target of the daily Telegraph and Spectator tabloids.
Daily numbers have now surpassed 50,000 a day and even the new Health Minister Sajid Javid has warned that this could climb to 100,000 cases a day. This is in sharp contrast to the Prime Minister’s optimism and the sunny speech of “Freedom Day” when most controls are lifted. Super spread locations like nightclubs, discos, crowded pubs, and public gatherings can operate without masks like before the pandemic.
An international conference of scientists just held an emergency Zoom meeting asking Boris Johnson to take the surge in Covid cases more seriously under his supervision. They say that the lifting of measures other countries still have in other countries through Johnson’s Freedom Day “would have deeply damaging effects on England”.
The twenty to thirty year olds in London report a massive increase in Covid infections, especially among those who went to the European Championship final at Wembley, where very poor police force allowed fans without tickets to crawl into the stadium. Others reportedly paid the gatekeepers £ 250 for the lowest wage allowed.
Still, nothing seems to shake the view of lockdown-skeptical Tory MPs, led by Steve Baker and his Covid Recovery Group – arguably the most contradicting title of all time – that any continued control of Covid would be a crime against the Tory vision of Brexit England is. Work is out of play. The party has no major political offers on the pandemic, other than more and more quarantine in hotels that only the rich can afford.
Australian Stephen Duckett, a former secretary of his country’s health department, says: “There is no reputable health advisor who would advise opening up at a time when the virus is spreading rapidly.”
So what is the Prime Minister doing to change history? He announced that France – yes, it always seems to be France – will now face additional sanctions. Anyone arriving from France by car, Eurostar, bus or plane is now under house arrest and has to pay for expensive tests from inflated companies – some of whom are affiliated with the Tory party.
It worked. The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Times and even the Guardian have all denied ministers’ disastrous management of the pandemic and the folly of the lifting of public health measures. Instead, they have front pages about the end of normal tourist traffic with France. Incidentally, the ministers’ claims that two vaccinations would allow the British to enjoy summer holidays on the other side of the Canal have been proven false.
The nominal reason for putting France back on the quarantine list is the presence of the beta (or South African) variant. It’s a worrying variant indeed, albeit not as contagious as the Delta (or Indian) variant that Johnson let into the UK in April when he refused to suspend flights from India. But the beta variant has been available in Europe, including the UK, since last year. In fact, Public Health England released a report on the beta variant in February. Nothing was done then. Flights to and from South Africa and the UK continued daily.
If this South African variant was so worrying to Johnson and Javid, why didn’t they take action to reduce arrivals from South Africa or act in February when Public Health England released its report? Former Labor Cabinet Secretary Ben Bradshaw tabled a parliamentary question on the beta variant after unearthing the fact that the government had all the information on it since February. But our Westminster journalists are ignoring Bradshaw’s vital parliamentary work and Labor doesn’t know how to criticize Johnson on Covid.
The sad conclusion is that Johnson used the dead cat tactic to headline France and its president – the number one public enemy of the Brexit commentary – today. The BBC and everyone are talking about travel to or through France being hit hard. Nobody is talking about the global concern that Freedom Day could make England the Covid capital of the world.
As Sophie Pedder, the very sober, very even-tempered Economist correspondent in Paris, stated in a tweet, the decision to stop tourism to France was “political”. She is right. But what can you do when everything is politics, politics, politics when dealing with the pandemic in England?
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