In a week where David Cameron called Calais families a 'bunch of migrants' and Google avoided a hefty tax bill, we look at how the government deal with the two topics.
On Tuesday, when questioned by Jeremy Corbyn and John Mcdonnell about Google’s ‘victory’ against the tax man, the Prime Minister responded:
“The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up to anyone in that regard is laughable. They met with the unions, they gave them flying pickets. They met with the Argentinians, they gave them the Falklands. They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais and said they could come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hard-working taxpayers.”
But this isn’t a piece about the whether David Cameron was wrong to describe the refugees who live in Calais’ camps as a “bunch of migrants” (he was) or an article on how it was Holocaust Memorial Day and an odd date to make the comment (which it was). It is, instead, about how the comment wasn’t really about migrants at all. It was about misplacing the current anger and outrage of a public who have seen Google handed a rather heavily subsidised tax bill.
In reality, it’s tough to know how David Cameron even feels about migrants. He could hate them. He could appreciate the good job they do cleaning his house. He may even look at the pictures of bombed out Damascus or Calais or of bodies on beaches and try to stifle a tear as it rolls down his puffy pink cheek.
Tears don’t win elections though and anger can.
And it’s easier to be mad at migrants. We don’t know them, they don’t speak our language, they look different and they love benefits don’t they? Love a hand out, love taking our taxes, Grrr, nasty migrants. Google on the other hand, oh God, sweet Google, Google can tell us how tall Ronnie Corbett is or how many calories are in a giant Toblerone or hide all the pornography you’re watching from your wife. God bless Google.
But this diversion was not an impromptu attack at Prime Minister’s Questions. This is a political technique called the ‘Dead Cat’ and it’s the political magic trick of our time (and all time, really). It is a simple but incredibly effective trick to redirect rage towards a controversial topic.
It works like such:
Dinner party guests: (outraged at the host) You think Ringo Star was the best Beatle?
Dinner party host: (throws dead cat onto table)
Dinner party guests: Oh God, a dead cat! (Forgetting about Ringo, the guests discuss the dead cat for the rest of the night)
Or, in a country where immigration is a constantly volatile debate the current conversation could be summed up as:
British Public: Yeah, I mean, Google should probably have payed more tax than 130 million pounds. They made, like, 3.4 billion pounds in the UK last year alone
Government: Yeah, true, but you know…..migrants…benefits…British values
British Public: Migrants….MIGRANTS….MIIIIIIIGGGGGGRRRRRAAAAANNTTTTS!
This works because we’re living in the age of Dead Cat Politics. When the banks crashed the economy, it was the public sector that was living outside its means. When the wealthy outsourced their earnings to tax havens, it was those on benefits who were stealing our money. And now that the government’s inability to tackle tax avoidance has been exposed, it’s migrants we should be angry at (not because of their inability to fight tax avoidance, but because they’re migrants and there coming here to take your jobs/women/way of life).
What’s especially odd is that caring about migrants was very fashionable a month or two ago. The Daily Mail and The Sun, spurred on by growing public opinion, briefly opened their pages and their hearts to the idea of helping the refugees. What an inspiring few weeks. But as the public’s interest faded they quickly realised that anger sells more papers than empathy.
And with that the victims became scapegoats again. British life returned to normal.
As I finish this piece I’m reminded of something a mate of mine once said:
“People don’t mind being shit on as long as they can shit on someone else.”
And it seems someone once said something similar to the Prime Minister. Because when Jeremy Corbyn mentioned Google in Parliament all David thought he had to do was hand us a broken umbrella and a cat’s corpse and remind us that there’s a toilet full of people over in Calais who need our attention.
Let’s hope both of them were wrong.