Rethinking Europe

Boris Johnson: Just blame the French!

The British Prime Minister resorts to an age-old political ploy of UK politics, blaming the French.

Takeaways


  • Boris Johnson has used the “dead cat” political tactic to make France and its president into Public Enemy Number One.
  • No one is talking about the global concern that Freedom Day ending of public health measure might make England the Covid capital of the world.
  • Ultimately, everything about the handling of the pandemic in England is politics, politics, politics.

The dead cat political tactic is attributed to Sir Lynton Crosby. He is the man who helped Boris Johnson to become Mayor of London and whose political magic is still regarded 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 decomposing cat on the political table.

Everyone reels back in shock. The news agenda is abruptly changed — and the politician using the dead cat lives to fight another day.

Johnson’s dreadful figures

In the run-up to July 19th, the UK’s “Freedom Day,” the figures on the Prime Minister’s desk were truly dreadful.

Britain now has the highest number of Covid cases in the world, after Indonesia and Brazil. Under Johnson, Britain has ten time more Covid cases than France under Macron – the favorite target for UK tabloids such as the Daily Telegraph and Spectator.

Even Sajid Javid, the new UK health secretary, has warned of 100,000 cases a day. This is in sharp contrast to the Prime Minister’s optimism and sunny talk of “Freedom Day.”

Johnson storming ahead

And yet, Boris Johnson stormed ahead. Most controls are now lifted on super-spreader venues like nightclubs, discotheques and crowded pubs. Mask-less public gatherings will be free to operate as they did before the pandemic.

It did not matter that a conference of international scientists held an emergency Zoom meeting and begged Boris Johnson to take the rise in Covid cases on his watch more seriously.

They say that Johnson’s Freedom Day lifting of measures other countries have in place would have “a profoundly damaging impact on England.”

Out of control

Never mind that 20-year-olds in London are reporting a massive increase in Covid infections, especially amongst those who went to the Euro final in Wembley.

There, very poor policing allowed fans without tickets to scramble into the stadium. Others were reported to have paid £250 to barrier guards on the lowest of wages to be allowed in.

No opposition

Yet, nothing seems to shake the view of Tory MPs headed by Steve Baker and his Covid Recovery Group – surely the most oxymoronic group of British MPs ever set up – that any continuing controls on Covid are a crime against the Tory vision of Brexit England.

The Labour Party is out of the game. It has no major policy offers on the pandemic — except ever more quarantine in hotels that only the rich can afford.

As Stephen Duckett, Australia’s former health minister, says: “There is no reputable public health advisor who would advise opening up at a time when the virus is spreading rapidly.”

From red-baiting to France-baiting

So, what does a Prime Minister do? Change the story.

And so it was that Mr. Johnson swiftly announced that France – yes, it always seems to be France (throughout history, even more so than Germany!) – will now be hit by extra sanctions.

Anyone coming in from France by car, Eurostar, bus or plane will now have to go into home detention and pay for expensive tests to firms some of them linked to the Tory Party.

Deflection, deflection

The strategy worked. The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and the Times shifted from the disastrous management of the pandemic by ministers and the folly of “Freedom Day”’s lifting of public health measures. Instead, front pages now center on the end of normal holiday traffic with France.

The reason given for putting France back on the quarantine list is the presence of the beta or South African variant there.

Soft on India, tough on France

It is indeed one a worrying variant if not as contagious as the Indian variant Johnson allowed to enter the UK all during April when he refused to stop flights from India.

The beta variant has been in Europe and the UK since last year. Public Health England published a report on the South African variant in February. No action was taken then. Flights to and from South Africa and Britain continue daily.

If the South African variant was of such concern to Johnson, why did he take no action to cut arrivals from South Africa or act in February when Public Health England published its report?

Conclusion

The sad conclusion is that Boris Johnson has used the “dead cat” political tactic to make France and its president into Public Enemy Number One for the Brexit commentariat and the focus of all ire for the headline stories.

Dutifully following the PM’s lead, the BBC and everyone else is talking about travel to or through France being hit badly.

By comparison, no one is talking about the global concern that Freedom Day ending of public health measure might make England the Covid capital of the world.

Ultimately, everything about the handling of the pandemic in England is politics, politics, politics.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexiternity. The Uncertain Fate of Britain” published by IB Tauris-Bloomsbury, London, October 2019. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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