The Labour leader is exaggerating the immediate risk to the health service, but there is no question that Trump’s trade demands will be hard lineby Rachel Sylvester / November 27, 2019 / Leave a comment
It’s known as the “dead cat” strategy. When political leaders are in trouble they like to produce a diversion so dramatic, outrageous and alarming that, as the Australian strategist Lynton Crosby once put it “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.”
With Jeremy Corbyn struggling to end the row about anti-semitism, after the intervention of the Chief Rabbi, and facing new questions about Labour’s tax and spending plans, following Andrew Neil’s interview with him, the Labour leader desperately needed to change the subject. He did so this morning by publishing 451 pages of unredacted documents which he claimed showed that the NHS was “for sale” in UK trade talks with the US. Dramatically waving a sheaf of papers in the air at a press conference, he said the minutes of meetings between US and UK negotiators—marked OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE”—left “in absolute tatters” Boris Johnson’s denials that the health system was not on the table. “Voters need to ask themselves,” he said, “is the NHS safe in Boris Johnson’s hands?”
It was an eye-catching gesture which momentarily at least shifted attention away from Labour’s own controversies. Indeed Barry Gardiner let the “dead cat” out of the bag when he angrily took a journalist to task at the press conference for asking a question about anti-semitism. Labour is politically astute to try to link the emotive issue of the NHS to Brexit, just as the Vote Leave campaign did so successfully in 2016, but the reality is not quite as clear cut as Corbyn suggests.
The documents do show that US pharmaceutical companies are keen to get access to the UK market, and that this has been discussed in the talks between officials. One document quotes the UK’s negotiator as saying: “The impact of some patent issues raised on NHS access to generic drugs (ie cheaper drugs) will be a key consideration” in discussions leading up to a trade deal. The Tories later suggested that Corbyn had quoted this line out of context and the paper does not specifically suggest…