Power to the pooches

If animals have rights, why can't we vote on 1 May? And which party deserves our paw mark?
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Avant-garde ethicists have lately been crying: animals have rights. Right on. Why are pets and pooches excluded from the rite of May - the vote?

There are households in this great nation of ours where the advice of Sam, Fido, Thumper or Vom would be most welcome, indeed where - if the ballot booth curtains could be drawn tight enough - the family dog would be encouraged to put his paw mark on the ballot paper.

But how would we mutts vote? One can guess about the aforementioned Vom. He is Westminster Dog of the Year, and you would expect his loyalty to lie with his master, the Tory MP Philip Oppenheim.

But Vom's master is not the only one of our erstwhile parliamentarians who has been cultivating the doggie vote. When it comes to pets, opposition to government intervention, freedom of markets, anything that smacks of principle or consistency be hanged. If the name of the game is slavering to special interests, Members of the House of Commons can give dogs a run for their money any day.

The National Canine Defence League has them queuing up to sponsor its favoured legislation. Liberal Democrat Diana Maddock won its seal of approval for taking action against puppy farming. Labour is not far behind the private member dogsbody stakes - few tears were shed in Walworth Road at the demise the other week of the oddly-named Peter Doig, an old Labour MP who pursued dogs with a vigour he otherwise reserved for denouncing the abolition of hanging.

Yet it would pay us canines to peruse the party manifestos with care. George Orwell was right: all animals are not equal. "Animal welfare" could mean stopping dogs on Exmoor getting their teeth into a nice piece of venison. For upper-class dogs - at least those with owners who can afford to sojourn overseas - the Tories are tentatively offering freedom from compulsory kennels on their return to these shores, promising to review the quarantine rules without appearing soft on rabies.

For pit bulls, Rottweilers and other aggressive members of the canine cousinage, the Tories will for ever remain the party that introduced the Dangerous Dogs Act which, though now amended, put the mark of Cain on so many innocent if knobbly doggy brows. Beagles and other hunting hounds - who like nothing so much as yapping in a pack before tearing some cornered fox or stag limb from limb - will assuredly not be voting Lib Dem or Labour. The latter both promise a free House of Commons vote on banning hunting. Perhaps the Lib Dems redeem themselves in beagle eyes by promising to think about banning the use of dogs in experiments.

For the average mutt, cocking his leg in the street or defecating in the children's play area in the park, it is a toss-up between the parties. The Tory manifesto is silent on the matter of turds but sapient dogs will not forget it was Tory councillors in Westminster who pioneered pooper- scoopers - surely a source of canine shame - and it was Tories also, in Wandsworth, who have threatened evictions for letting dogs relieve themselves on estates.

But what self-respecting street dog would not like to sink his gnashers into the calf of Labour's Jack Straw. If he became Home Secretary, his penchant for registration and anti-fouling laws would make ours ... a dog's life.