Big Ben struck ten. Photographers swarmed. The rain poured. Sorry, pawed. Sopping and suited, excitable politicians chased their prize pooches around Victoria Tower Gardens. And frantic assistants chased their politicians around in turn, quietly noting the advantages a lead has to offer.
This morning was Westminster Dog of the Year’s 20th anniversary – and the scene of parliament’s most bitterly contested battle.
Twenty-four politicians had thrown their loyal charges into the dog-eat-dog world of Westminster politics, having done weeks of canvassing in their constituencies for online votes. The favoured voting method was propawtional representation apparently. Perhaps they’ll try the single transfurable vote next year.
Such modern electoral methods are surprising, considering the dominance of Tory hounds at the event – 16 out of 24 – although no huskies in sight for Cameron to hug I’m afraid. “I think it’s rigged by the landed aristocracy”, Jon Cruddas, one of the only Labour MPs there and Ed Miliband’s new policy review chief, told me, “they think it’s their God-given right to win this. We’re the left-wing insurgency.”
His border terrier Joni yapped loudly in agreement – apparently the “worst-behaved dog” there, and the only one to have attended last weekend’s TUC march. But her left-wing credentials and unique position “straddling the Commons and the Lords” (Joni was entered jointly by Cruddas and his wife, Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill), did not win her that victory prize.
Although there was something for Labour to celebrate in Lindsay Hoyle’s enormous Rottweiler Gordon coming third place. Was he named after a certain former PM? Apparently so, “except he has a clunking paw, rather than a clunking fist."
It was Charlie Elphicke MP’s Norfolk terrier, Star, who picked up the golden parliament trophy, and she’s far more of a right-winger from what he revealed of her main activities in his constituency, Dover – “barking at French doggies across the channel.” And does Elphicke liken himself to his superstar pooch in any way? “We both enjoy life.”
But Lord Flight was less sure about his own man-dog bond. Looking wearily down at his 17-month-old border terrier Doris, he sighed “like most ladies, she gets her own way”, and continued, while I prayed there were no suffragette stragglers from yesterday’s protest nearby, “if you don’t give her enough attention, she howls.” But Doris seems to know her own mind, as despite the prevalence of coalition canines at the event, Flight admitted, “as to her politics, she won’t tell me.”