In the end, it all seems to come down to chicken.
Archaeologists claim that, when future civilisations vastly superior to our own eventually trawl through the fossil record of the Anthropocene era, today’s society will be notable primarily for the number of chicken carcasses we have rapaciously left behind us.
But even they, surely, will never be able to comprehend the way in which the humble hen has become such an integral part of the culture wars of late-capitalist Britain.
Last year, the now infamous ‘KFC Crisis’ laid bare Britain’s unpreparedness for any kind of shock to its fragile food logistics network.
Since then, the chlorinated chicken debate has served as a handy metaphor for those who believe an exit from EU regulatory standards will leave the country at the mercy of Trump’s America.
And just last month, a clumsy and ill-judged Home Office campaign conflated the humble chicken shop with London’s knife crime epidemic.
And now some un-creative creative in the Tory party marketing department (is there one?) came up with this poultry effort.
The Big Idea
Last week (at what may come to be remembered as his one and only session of Prime Minister’s Questions), PM Boris Johnson told his opposite number Jeremy Corbyn: “There’s only one chlorinated chicken that I can see in this house, and he’s on that bench”, prompting the Sun to run a front-page photoshop job depicting Corbyn as a farmyard fowl.
So far so predictable, given what now passes for parliamentary debate and impartial media scrutiny in this sceptred isle of ours.
But then some bright spark at Conservative HQ decided to take the ‘Corbyn’s chicken’ idea and make it the lead creative thought for an all-out ground and social media war, aimed at forcing an early General Election.
What They Did
A lead graphic depicting ‘JFC’ (Jeremy Corbyn in a headless chicken suit) alongside a ‘Totally Spineless Chicken’ headline was circulated from official Conservative-owned social channels, with a number of brands directly tagged in order to increase shares and visibility.
To add a bit of on-the-ground impact, Westminster lobby journalists were also delivered packs of ‘JFC’ cooked chicken to their desks, depicting Corbyn as KFC’s iconic Colonel Sanders and lamenting his ‘fowl play’ for blocking an election.
The first strategic error of the campaign was to enter into a social media scuffle with far bigger beasts than themselves.
The Tories initial attempt to engage with KFC (as well as seemingly believing that KFC itself is just a very large chicken, rather than a purveyor of fried goods) was swiftly and summarily slapped down by the fast-food chain.
The second was to underestimate the internet’s passion for mockery.
Within minutes of its initial publication, the overwhelmingly young, tech-savvy and left-leaning audience of Twitter had run amok with memes and savagely critical commentary. Whilst the idea was obviously an attempt to appeal to the Conservatives’ base, that demographic is vastly outnumbered on social channels. The front page of The Sun is a controlled medium compared to the bearpit of social media.
Finally, and perhaps most tragically, the chicken delivered to journalists was unequivocally not of the delicious, fried variety.
Looking more like it had come fresh from the shelves of M&S than the local branch of Morley’s, the media mailers only helped to confirm suspicions that the instigators of the campaign knew very little about the culture they were attempting to hijack.
Much has been made of the current government’s use of so-called ‘deadcatting strategy’ to distract from other (more pressing) issues, with many suggesting this campaign was yet another distraction tactic.
And it is certainly true that, in a week where virtually everything that could go wrong for the PM did, it gave Twitter’s wags and Fleet Street’s hacks something altogether more amusing to focus on for a few hours.
However, at a time when Johnson’s control of government was fast slipping away due to the departure of senior politicians from the ‘one nation’ wing of his party, a poorly-executed attempt to troll the opposition may not have convinced other wavering MPs and voters that he is indeed the ‘adult in the room’ required in these most testing of times.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, there remains an abiding belief amongst some commentators that there is a strategic masterplan at the heart of this No. 10 administration.
Could the real truth be that they are just as headless as the rest of us?
On this occasion at least, they brought an absolute turkey to a chicken fight.
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