A Lib Dem MP has taken aim at the ‘masters of spin' for increasingly manipulating the news cycle.
Richard Ford said what started as political spin has now turned into a practice bordering on deception, saying it was “time to end the dead cat strategy”.
Mr Ford's comments came as MPs debated two petitions on honesty in politics, which called on the Government to introduce legislation to make lying in the House of Commons a criminal offence.
While the Tiverton and Honiton MP said he was concerned about the “idea of opposition politicians just being shut down for telling the truth”, he criticized the government for using the “dead cat strategy” during the partygate scandal.
Deadcatting is a political tactic where a shocking or distracting topic is introduced to divert attention from a more damaging topic, often used to distract the discourse from negative media attention.
Speaking in Westminster Hall, Mr Foord said: “On 12 April 2022, the Metropolitan Police issued a fixed sentence to the then Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Rishi Sunak) for breaking the rules. event at the Council of Ministers in June 2020.
“The newspapers were full of this dramatic news when, just two days later, the government announced the so-called Rwanda partnership.
“Whatever you think of Rwanda's co-operation, the £120m scheme which would have seen some asylum seekers have their claims processed while in Rwanda, is, to say the least, remarkable.
“The point here is that we have been increasingly subjected over the last two decades to what began as spin that has since bordered on dishonesty.
“Well, if I take you back to September 11, 2001, we heard the phrase that it was a ‘good day to bury the bad news.'
“At the time, this was a symbol of the worst aspects of the dark arts of spin. But what we've seen since then is the evolution of this into a campaign technique. Now we hear about the dead cat strategy.
“Dead catting” is the idea that when something embarrassing is in the headlines, the spin masters might slap a dead cat in front of the public, a sensational announcement to distract from those uncomfortable headlines of the day.
“I think it's time to end ‘a good day to bury bad news'. It's time to end the dead cat strategy. It is a good day to bury the dead cat. We need more honesty in public life.”
Elsewhere in the debate, the SNP's Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) highlighted the limitations of existing mechanisms such as the code of conduct for MPs and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
Urging the government to make it a criminal offense to lie in Parliament, he said: “Parliamentary privilege gives members the right to speak freely without fear of legal liability or other retribution.
“However, this privilege has been abused and this abuse runs counter to our code of conduct with little impact.
“We should take this opportunity to look at the challenges and complexities of this issue and come together to find a solution that works.
“Legislation should be brought forward to prevent further erosion of trust between government and the governed.
“This should be done at the earliest opportunity so that we can move forward with the regressive nature of this Parliament.”
Cabinet minister Alex Burghardt said he did not believe the route set by the reports was appropriate.
He said: “If honesty is one of the core values of our system, then parliamentary privilege and freedom of speech within Parliament is one of the absolute pillars of the modern constitution.”
He continued: “If we accepted the ideas that were shot down, we would be accepting, no, sanctioning, the legal intimidation of MPs in the House of Commons.
“I'm afraid that's something this government will not support.”