The Art of Deadcatting

Posted on December 16, 2021

I find the “dead cat” strategy a really fascinating one. Deadcatting, as it is also known, is the introduction of a sensationalist topic aimed to divert the public from something far more serious. 

The “dead cat” tactic has been credited to Australian political strategist, Lynton Crosby. Crosby has worked with political figures such as David Cameron, Australian PM, John Howard, and of course, current PM, Boris Johnson (during London Mayor Elections in 2008 and 2012).

Johnson’s Friend

Here is what Johnson said about “deadcatting”.

 “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend (Crosby) is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”[

It might appear quite simplistic but that is how Crosby has built a successful career. His methods are crass, brutal, gauche even, but most importantly; they work. Crosby is credited as taking Cameron from coalition to majority in 2015 at a time when hope was fading. It was a crude campaign, but Crosby identified his target voters and played a blinder.

Flogging a Dead Horse

What I find remarkable is that Johnson continues to unashamedly use this strategy and get away with it. You would think that by now that “throwing a dead cat on the table” would have ended up (I am going into metaphor overdrive here) the equivalent of “flogging a dead horse”. Apparently not.

Johnson’s recent covid-19 addresses to the nation, are classic deadcatting. He has made everything about populist slogans, such as “jabathon” and “giving omicron both barrels”. Therefore, Tories having Christmas piss ups (whilst the rest of the nation sat indoors counting the days away) have become yesterday’s chip paper. ‘Plan B’ is against his instincts but if it is a dead cat that gets him off the Partygate hook, it’s worth it.

Public Understanding

Until the public understand the “dead cat” strategy, Johnson will keep using it. He’d be mad not to. When I popped into see a client the other day, predictably, Covid came into the conversation. I mentioned that the Prime Minister’s Covid press conference had “dead cat” written all over it. It was somewhat surprising to see that everyone was looking at me, nonplussed. I asked if they had heard of “deadcatting”, but they hadn’t. When I tried to explain it, I ended up feeling awkward and a bit like a conspiracy theorist.

It almost feels like “deadcatting” is a secret that Johnson has made no attempt to…well, keep a secret. I guess that’s what makes it such an excellent strategy. Johnson can “dead cat” his way through crisis after crisis and if anyone pulls him up on it, they are the wack job. It is utterly bonkers, but we are living in a period where no one knows what is true anymore.

Anyway, have you heard that Shamima Begum is trying to get her citizenship back?

1 Reply to "The Art of Deadcatting"

  • Norman House
    December 16, 2021 (5:17 pm)


    I’m very familiar with the term. I too have had people look at me strangely (or more strangely than usual) when I mention it, particularly in respect of Johnson.

    To use a rather clumsy analogy: If Hannibal Lecter had been a sadistic serial killer of cats rather than humans, then Johnson would have been his main customer for the carcasses of the poor cats.

    Johnson may not be a deliberate serial killer himself, but he does have some of the same traits. I already thought this, but looked some up:

    Smooth-talking, but insincere. e.g. Ted Bundy had a ‘perfect mask. Hannibal Lecter had a soothing albeit sinister tone.

    Egocentric and grandiose – Johnson uses an image of a clown, the joker, a harmless buffoon yet uses grand and often-outdated language to fool those who listen to him. ‘Look I’m brighter than you, so I deserve all I get. But I’m also one of you, like you.’

    Lack of remorse or guilt – Someone else is always to blame, e.g. Allegra Stratton

    Lack of empathy – ‘Let the bodies pile high.’

    Shallow emotions

    Impulsive – Decisions are sometimes made at a whim, contradicting what might have been said yesterday.

    Poor behaviour controls (especially birth control!). Hundreds of examples in other areas.

    Need for excitement (not sure on this one).

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