Boris Johnson, UK's Answer To Trump, Offers A Masterclass In How To Use The Dead Cat Strategy Combined With A Google Bomb

from the sheer-genius-or-dumb-luck? dept

Boris Johnson — full name Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson — was born in New York to English parents, studied at Eton and Oxford, became Mayor of London, and now stands a good chance of becoming the UK’s next prime minister. That’s not because of any outstanding ability, but largely because he belongs to the country’s ruling class and assumes the position is his by right, as do many of his supporters. However, this smooth if completely unearned rise to the top of the UK’s political system was threatened recently by an unexpected event. Police were called in the early hours to the London home of Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, after neighbors heard “a loud altercation involving screaming, shouting and banging“:

The argument could be heard outside the property where the potential future prime minister is living with Symonds, a former Conservative party head of press.

A neighbour told the Guardian they heard a woman screaming followed by “slamming and banging”. At one point Symonds could be heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat”.

Despite repeated questions by interviewers, Johnson refused to comment on the incident, which naturally provoked yet more interest. Johnson’s chances of becoming prime minister seemed to be dropping by the hour. And then came an interview with talkRADIO, in which Johnson was asked: “What do you do to relax?” He replied:

I like to paint. Or I make things. I have a thing where I make models of buses. What I make is, I get old, I don’t know, wooden crates, and I paint them. It’s a box that’s been used to contain two wine bottles, right, and it will have a dividing thing. And I turn it into a bus.

So I put passengers — I paint the passengers enjoying themselves on a wonderful bus — low carbon, of the kind that we brought to the streets of London, reducing CO2, reducing nitrous oxide, reducing pollution.

As the Guardian reported, this surreal answer blew people’s minds, and a variety of reasons were offered for this bizarre response. But Adam Bienkov, UK Political Editor of BusinessInsider, had the best explanation. He reminded people of something that Johnson had written in 2013:

Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as “throwing a dead cat on the table, mate”.

That is because 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, 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.

Throwing a dead cat on the dining room table — talking about making models of buses — worked for Johnson. Everyone in the UK press and beyond started talking about the model buses, and the story about the police being called to Johnson’s home was forgotten. That’s impressive enough, but it’s possible that strange moment in the interview may have achieved even more.

One of Boris Johnson’s claims to fame/infamy arose during the deeply-divisive 2016 Brexit referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU. Johnson supported Brexit, and he was photographed in front of the campaign’s big red bus that bore the slogan: “We send the EU ?350m a week: let?s fund our NHS [National Health Service] instead”. It was a bogus statement: the true amount sent to the EU is closer to ?160 million pounds a week. Johnson’s willingness to endorse that misleading figure is another threat to his claim to be a fit person to become the UK’s new prime minister.

A day after the dead cat was thrown on the table, twitter user @MrKennyCampbell realized that Johnson’s incoherent rambling about model buses was also a Google bomb. Previously, searches for “boris bus” on Google threw up that lie about how much the UK sent to the EU, and Johnson’s tacit agreement with it. Now the same search shows stories about Johnson’s passion for making model buses. References to the big red Brexit bus and its slogan have been pushed off the top Google hits, effectively consigning the story about Johnson to relative digital oblivion.

This is such a brilliant example of political search engine optimization that it’s hard to believe someone as buffoonish as Johnson would be capable of pulling it off intentionally. Nonetheless, whether it was fiendishly clever planning, or an unbelievably lucky improvisation, there’s no denying the episode stands as an object lesson in how to combine the dead cat strategy with a Google bomb to great effect.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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Comments on “Boris Johnson, UK's Answer To Trump, Offers A Masterclass In How To Use The Dead Cat Strategy Combined With A Google Bomb”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

If neither A or B are believable, how about C?

This is such a brilliant example of political search engine optimization that it’s hard to believe someone as buffoonish as Johnson would be capable of pulling it off intentionally.

… unless of course someone on his election team told him to say it, because they were smart enough to know it would work.

‘Buffoon accidentally stumbles upon brilliant way to get not one but two damning things off of search engines close to election’ is kinda hard to buy, but ‘person well versed in gaming search engines and/or burying inconvenient information tells political candidate what to say to accomplish it’ is trivial to believe.

Anonymous Coward says:

So while the misdirection may have been useful, I believe a lot of people would come out believing something like "If one someone tells him: ‘there’s a nuklear reactor leak happening’ he’ll cheerfully repond ‘Let them eat cake!’ "… And I guess he (or his advisors) believe that that impression is better than disclosing what ever else went down that night?

Ben (profile) says:

Re: Stick to tech

Erm, nope, this understanding of British politics and the power of privilege is completely accurate.
Boris has had the job of PM as his target for many years, and he’s constantly manouvered around the hierarchy of the Tory party to achieve it. I bet he and Gove together decided that Gove would ‘stab him in the back’ by standing in the previous Tory party leadership election (that led to the coronation of T May), in order that Boris would avoid having to organise a Brexit agreement. Far simpler to step in now and say "it’s all gone horribly wrong because of the nasty people in Europe, let’s just leave and sod the consequences".

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Stick to tech

You see, this is the problem with so many comments here. Something’s factually wrong? Great, you can inform us of the glaring errors. Then, we can discuss how that changes the focus of the article. Everyone learns something, and you might come away learning something new about the points of view of others at the same time.

Instead, you’ve chosen just to whine in a non-specific way that suggests that you’re just another one of the fools who thinks that this site only discusses tech because they happen to have that in their name. Shame.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Stick to tech

You Techdirt guys really need to stay within your area of expertise. I love all the articles here on IP and technology, and I’ve been reading for years.

Wait a sec…. Did I miss something? When did Google search results become non-tech? Just because the buffoon who managed to pull it off is a politician, doesn’t mean this story isn’t tech related.

Nick says:

Re: Re: Stay in your lane. That being the drive through

I actually did work in the fried potato industry a few years ago.

This is in reply to all of the previous replies. My apologies for the bad comment. I found the article irritating and dashed off a comment without taking the proper time to read the article properly or articulate actual arguments. I looked back at it today and now find it rather embarrassing.

I will do better next time.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Not surprising

That’s not because of any outstanding ability, but largely because he belongs to the country’s ruling class and assumes the position is his by right, as do many of his supporters.

Not surprising to see that that attitude extends to women, nor that he’s bad with money. Someone born to money and privilege rarely knows the value of a dollar (or pound or euro), and people are merely objects for them to toy with.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Boris Johnson

Is Boris Johnson a domestic abuser?

Yep. Also adulterer, racist, misogynist, entitled dick, megalomaniacal and liar – and those are his good qualities.

Nice try getting the story back on google… Be lovely if it worked – or if people simply noticed what an utter sh*t-show of a human being he is.

Grant you that last one is less likely since he hardly stands out ahead of the pack for UK politicians, and barely makes a dent globally (I’m looking at you, US!)

Should have mentioned the bus, too, though, just for laughs – far as I can tell, there’s still a significant portion of the UK population that thinks it was true despite it being the biggest self-evident whopper since the last time the US president opened his mouth.

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