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'Oh No, You Didn't!' - The Dead Cat Strategy

25/04/2016 16:58 | Updated 25 April 2016

Cats have long been part of my political backstory. When I told people I was running against Lib Dem John Hemming MP, usually the response was, "who?" I would enlighten them by saying, "you know... the dude with the wife, the mistress and the cat." Often I saw the the dawn of realisation on their faces. So dead, or missing and assumed dead, cats are nothing new to us fighting the good fight in Birmingham Yardley.

For those outside of the Westminster playpen, the dead cat strategy is basically a massive, usually insulting diversion from a political party's failings. So if your immigration targets are not met, scream something hideous about the migrant relative of your opponent. Everyone will clutch their pearls and bang on about that for the rest of the day and sometimes week. The fact that you cocked up on counter-terrorism or failed to do anything without u-turning will slip by, while commentators across the land discuss Jeremy Corbyn's tweed jacket and crooked tie.

In Yardley, our dead cat was thrown on the table long before I came along to the party. I never once used it in any literature or speeches. I never once passed comment on the personal life of my opponent. I didn't need to, when a man is stupid enough and arrogant enough to tell local bedroom tax victims to "get a lodger", one can sit back and let him do the dirty on himself.

Lynton Crosby, the Tory svengali, is the master of a dead cat. He lines up salivating little career hopeful Tory junior ministers, only too keen to plant a little question about terrorist sympathising, or utter a little Miliband family disunity. At best, when I think of these interactions between the apprentices and their master I imagine the Emperor or Supreme Leader Snoke in Star Wars, handing down diktats to stroppy snivelling teenage wannabes like Kylo Ren, Anakin Skywalker or even Luke Skywalker. Nobody likes those characters desperate to impress their dark overlord. "I wanna be Anakin in his desperate phase," said no kid ever.

A successful dead cat diversion has to be nasty. It is usually personal, about families or name calling about clothes. When big guns are needed, calling someone a terrorist is de rigueur. Up and down the land playground bullies are using the same tools against some poor kid.

My own kid has been on the end of some pretty upsetting bullying. When the bully sees their power slipping away, what better way of grabbing attention than shrieking at the sensitive kid with social difficulties. Lynton Crosby, his sidekicks and apprentices are no better than my sons playground bullies. Arrogant and without concern for the side effects of their actions. A crying kid, or an insulted section of society, the result is the same; isolation and anger that eventually breeds contempt and disharmony.

The advice I give to my son, is the same as I will give to us all. Laugh in the face of the bully. Roll your eyes. A little classic British tutting perhaps. Shrug it off with a massive "whatevs". The bully seeks out my child because he cries. He gives them the delicious reaction that they feed on. He tells on them, because he takes things literally, so always sticks to the rules. None of it ever helps or disarms them in the way a bit of laughing and shrug would.

This advice is not easy to take. I've been guilty of overreacting. I'm quick to anger, but I know deep down blithe indifference is what will kill them. So do your worst Lynton, sling a whole bag full of dead kittens at me, I'll just step over the debris and keep on walking, because fighting off a man with a cat is what I do for fun at the weekends.

Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

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