Is Boris Johnson's rescue dog Dilyn now rescuing the Prime Minister's image? – Aidan Smith
Well, is that such a shaggy dog story? The No 10 mutt is hardly ever out of the news at the moment and yesterday it was front-page over an incident involving Dominic Cummings, back when the latter was the Prime Minister’s top aide and metaphorical Rottweiler.
During a brainstorming away-day at Chequers, Dilyn is supposed to have taken a running leap at Cummings’ leg and started humping it. Now, the arch spin-doctor is not a doggy-woggy kind of guy. This will come as no surprise to those who doubt he can properly connect with humans. He has condemned the frivolousness of British politics where ministers and MPs are encouraged to care more about “Twitter and gossip-column stories about their dogs” while ignoring big existential threats.
But worse than the humping that day was the laughter of everyone else in the room as Cummings desperately tried to shake the dog off. “Dom doesn’t like being laughed at,” reported a Whitehall insider, “and after that he would bitch about poor Dilyn to everyone.”
Cummings – who should surely have been christened Demonic, such is his flair for the black arts of briefing and smearing – is supposed to be the man behind the stories which have put the Prime Ministerial pooch in the dog-house.
There’s been the one about Dilyn gnawing the delicately carved feet of antique occasional tables. There’s been the one about Dilyn throttling equally precious and heavily foxed books as if they were, well, foxes.
And did Cummings leak the tale about the handbag even though it was Dilyn who did the actual leaking? The piddling incident – the bag belonged to a No 10 staffer – has been dubbed Dilyn’s Watergate. Any more of this, you feel, and the dog will be meeting its Waterloo and heading back to the rescue kennels.
Unless, of course, the stories are coming from the top dog, Boris. Even though the PM was reported at one exasperating moment to have bellowed “Shoot that f****** dog!”, what if they were all part of a cunning plan?
What better way to amuse dog-silly Britain during these dark days than with a waggly-tailed mischief-maker? Then, as the country threatens to leave the darkness behind, what better symbol of national recovery could there be than the scampering Dilyn, desperate to show it’s “as fit as a butcher’s dog”, his master’s mantra when Covid struck top command?
Did No 10 push Dilyn front and centre to boost Johnson’s approval rating? History reveals plenty of examples of man’s best friend becoming the politician’s saviour. In 1944 Franklin D Roosevelt was re-elected US President after delivering what became known as the “Fala speech”.
Fala was FDR’s Scottish terrier, much-loved in the White House and the wider country. Republicans opponents claimed Roosevelt left the dog behind following a trip to the Aleutian islands in the north Pacific, requiring a US Navy destroyer to retrieve the pet at vast cost to the taxpayer. FDR said the unfounded allegation had made Fala’s “Scotch soul furious… he hasn’t been the same dog since”. The speech brought the house down.
In 1952, Vice-Presidential hopeful Richard Nixon made America lie on its back and have its tummy tickled when, faced with charges of having accepted gifts from donors, he announced there was one he wouldn’t be returning – a Spaniel pup which his daughter had named Checkers.
And where would Bill Clinton have been without Buddy? In the aftershock of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Oval Office advisers decided his battered image as a family man could be repaired with the help of a chocolate Labrador.
It may be cynical to suggest that Dilyn is being used by Johnson to improve his PR, but politics is dog-eat-dog and occasionally shove-your-granny-off-a-bus and no one would deny his was PR which needed an upgrade.
And at least one of Johnson’s exes is surprised that he’s suddenly become a dog-owner. “He has never seemed very fond of animals,” Petronella Wyatt wrote in The Spectator. Johnson is the only person to have been bitten by Wyatt’s dog Mini, though “one could plead this was out of self-defence – Boris had just sat on her”.
Maybe the prime mover was the PM’s fiancee Carrie Symonds, given she was recently named activist of the year by animal rights group Peta. As a gauge of her empathy with our four-legged chums, though perhaps also her own image, she allegedly waylaid the PM as he was about to host a Covid crisis meeting to get him to deal instead with a report claiming she wanted to get rid of Dilyn.
If all of this sounds more Handforth Parish Council than Her Majesty’s Government then remember a) in the middle of a global pandemic not everyone thinks straight and b) thinking straight about dogs at any time is not in the national make-up.
So Johnson sticks Dilyn on the front of the No 10 Christmas card then fends off accusations of “vanity” for having Downing Street’s official photographers record the dog’s snowtime frolics. Can Dilyn really become Attorney General? Well, don’t forget the legend of Caligula, the Roman emperor, installing his favourite horse as a consul.
Even if you’re desperate for this shaggy dog story to end you must admit that the shaggy-haired PM and Dilyn are well-matched. Ignoring the advice of Adolf Hitler who said that “a statesman does not permit himself to be photographed with a little dog”, owner and pet seem very much alike. Destroying furniture and books, plus the humping, could easily be the initiation ceremony for entry to the Bullingdon Club.
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