Mandy's new best friend Bobby vies to be top Labour dog

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The Independent Online
DOGFIGHTING in politics is nothing new, but the Cabinet is reeling after a bare-fanged confrontation between ministerial hounds, writes Jonathon Carr-Brown.

Old and New Labour clashed when Lucy, the faithful guide-dog to the Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, clashed with her exuberant new rival, Peter Mandelson's 12-week-old golden retriever, Bobby.

Sources close to Lucy say the confrontation took place in the corridors behind the Speaker's chair.

"I didn't see the way they looked at each other but I could sense Lucy was making it clear she was the elder statesman," a witness said.

Last night Mr Blunkett confirmed that Lucy had vetted Bobby, while he gave Mr Mandelson some tips on how to discipline his new charge.

"Peter asked me how he should train Bobby. I told him he had to be firm," he explained.

Mr Blunkett is well known for his uncompromising but fair regime with Lucy, but the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland confessed he felt unable to chastise his new companion. "I told him he had to think of Bobby as a member of Militant," Mr Blunkett said.

Lucy is the only dog allowed in the chamber of the House of Commons and Mr Blunkett had to get permission from the Speaker for her to be admitted. She has behaved impeccably, sleeping at her master's feet through all his best speeches.

The black labrador disgraced herself only once, when she vomited during a speech by David Willetts, the former Tory education spokesman. Many Labour MPs felt she showed impeccable timing.

Bobby was first smuggled into Westminster a fortnight ago to get Lucy's approval. But he bounded into public life last week when Mr Mandelson was spotted with the pet in the back of his ministerial car.

Mr Mandelson lifted Bobby out and was rewarded with a big lick on the nose. Later the puppy was left to wander freely around a reception for the press in the Northern Ireland Office but was later led out after an accident on the carpet.

Bobby is reputedly named after the code-name given to Mr Mandelson when he worked behind the scenes for Tony Blair on his campaign for the Labour leadership. The mystery "Bobby" was one of the people given special thanks by Mr Blair after he won.

Mr Mandelson has been ferrying his puppy back and forth between London and Belfast on the ministerial jet for some time, but he explained he had made strenuous efforts to keep the new addition to his family out of the public eye during the recent weeks of Northern Ireland's historic political process.

Bobby is probably the third most famous Labour dog after Lucy and Buster. Buster is an Alsatian-Staffordshire bull terrier cross, adopted from Battersea Dogs' Home by Lord Hattersley. The dog achieved notoriety after killing a goose in St James's Park, London.

OLD PET, NEW PET

THE canine discussions between Peter Mandelson and David Blunkett expose deeply held views on the proper way to rear a dog. On one side barks the traditional mutt, a loyal and faithful friend who will bear almost any insult with a wagging tail. Growling opposite is a new version of dog-kind, a sleek beast, fashion conscious and very, very sensitive.

THE OLD WAY:

Dog will be happy to scoff smelly stuff containing a large amounts of recovered meat, gristle and ash. Spoon directly into a chipped ceramic bowl that says "DOG" on it. He will relish the odd doggie choc.

As a food supplement, dog will raid the dustbin on his own initiative, or nick ice-creams from unsuspecting children.

No pampering; dog will sleep in a kennel outside. Add straw and an old blanket on very cold nights.

Hose dog down when he gets too whiffy to bear. You can also attempt occasional DIY shampoo sessions in the bath.

Dog will learn everything necessary at dog obedience classes in the local church hall, though he will still chase cats and scare the postman.

THE NEW WAY:

Dog will appreciate organic food made with whole grains, herbs, seeds, alfalfa and seaweed, eaten out of ergonomically designed dog feeders, the height of which can be adjusted to optimise comfort.

Book regular visits to homeopathic vet, and buy herbal food supplements to aid digestion and prevent anti-social conditions such as bad breath and flatulence.

A variety of prettily-designed dog beds are available, some with super- comfy thermal mattresses.

Get chauffeur to drop dog off at canine grooming parlour several times a week.

Address dog's behavioural and emotional needs with alternative therapies, including Bach flower remedies.

Book him in to be individually trained by an animal behaviourist. Encourage him to extend himself through creative play; for example, toys with a hidden treat inside that he has to extract.

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