Boris Johnson's latest dead cat - a bridge over the Irish Sea

PUBLISHED: 12:46 13 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:19 13 February 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Photo. Picture: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor /PA Wire

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Photo. Picture: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor /PA Wire

A bridge over the Irish Sea is never going to happen, says MITCH BENN. So what are we being distracted from?

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Of all the many kinds of lie one hears over the course of one's life, be they personal, professional or political, perhaps the most depressing lies are the ones that not even the liar expects to be believed.

I don't mean lies told with a knowing wink to the camera and a "We all know this is made up" mischievous twinkle; I mean those lies droned out with a flat tone and a straight face, without conviction or even an attempt at conviction, by someone who knows that there's a transparently false narrative which must be sold and, moreover, that there's probably nothing that the recipients of the lie can do about it.

Speaking of things being sold, it's become particularly ironic this week that one stock response to hearing an outrageous untruth being peddled is something along the lines of "And if you believe that, I've got a bridge I'd like to sell you".

This expression refers back, it seems, to the case of one George Parker, a prolific and extraordinarily bold con artist who operated in New York in the early 20th century and who was especially fond of selling fraudulent deeds to great public landmarks, in particular the Brooklyn Bridge, which he "sold" on many occasions. Sometimes, this crime would only come to light when the new "owners" of the bridge tried to erect toll booths at either end.

It was difficult not to remember this cliché (or indeed Mr Parker himself) this last week upon hearing the announcement that "work has begun" on a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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First of all, it's particularly jarring and ironic that our present government should propose building a bridge "uniting" the two member countries of the Union which its own Brexit policies are in the process of driving out of that Union, thus engendering the hilarious prospect of the United Kingdom spending billions upon billions of pounds on a bridge connecting one foreign country to another. Seems rather redolent of the days of empire, though I doubt that that's the idea.

Secondly, it's worth pointing out that Boris Johnson has form where unnecessary and extravagant bridges are concerned. The now notorious Garden Bridge, a proposed floral walkway across the Thames which was approved and developed during his tenure as the mayor of London, was abandoned soon after he left office, amid spiralling costs, safety concerns and the revelation that planning had been allowed to proceed without the building rights to the land at either side of the river ever having been secured. By the time the project was cancelled, £43 million of public funds had been squandered.

As soon as the "announcement" of the Scotland/Northern Ireland bridge was made, marine experts and civil engineers took to the internet to express the more or less unanimous opinion that such a structure would be not only unnecessary (and dementedly expensive) but impossible; in particular, military historians nervously pointed out that the proposed route of the bridge blunders straight through an area of seabed which was used as a dump for hundreds of tons of unused naval ordnance after the Second World War. Even if the bridge towers - which would, in places, have to be nearly a mile high - could be constructed and transported out into the open sea, they would then be planted on a floor of unexploded bombs.

There's another expression you may have heard, this time originating in journalistic circles: the "dead cat" strategy. This refers to the deployment of an eye-catchingly horrendous but ultimately irrelevant story or idea in order to divert the public's attention from something equally horrendous but rather more relevant (the analogy being that if you were to suddenly slam a dead cat onto the table during discussions, everyone would be so alarmed and fixated by the sudden presence of the dead cat that they would forget whatever it was they were supposed to be discussing).

There was immediate consensus, among the Twittersphere at least, that the Never Gonna Happen Irish Sea Bridge announcement was just such a dead cat, which in turn begs the question: what are we being distracted from?

If, as is sometimes the case, the dead cat is being deployed preemptively to get everyone looking the wrong way so that they miss a damaging revelation a few days later, then at the time of writing it's still not apparent what that revelation is (perhaps you know by now). If, on the other hand, it's to maintain camouflage over something already "out in the open" but which the government would rather we weren't thinking about... well, where to start?

Could it be the new round of deportations? The fact that the Jennifer Arcuri case remains unresolved? The fact that the Government is still sitting on the report into Russian interference in the 2016 EU referendum, perhaps because it might cast doubt on the legitimacy of that vote, and, as such, the legitimacy of literally everything that's happened since?

Maybe the bridge nonsense isn't a dead cat. Maybe this Government is just lying because that's what this Government does. With a straight face, a toneless voice, not even caring whether we believe them.

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