Geoffrey Wheatcroft: When the bite is worse than the bark

Let's not rush to shove a microchip into every dog in the country

Share
Related Topics

If new proposals are enacted, every dog in the country will be fitted with a microchip bearing a barcode that reveals the owner's name, address and number, as well as the pet's name, breed, age and health. Far-fetched as the plan seems, it is the latest instalment in the unlikely story of the dog in British political life, metaphorically or otherwise.

When the battle was raging over the power of the House of Lords almost a hundred years ago, David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Liberal government, called the Lords "Mr Balfour's poodle". In truth that wasn't quite right: their lordships' house was no mere pet of A.J. Balfour, the Tory leader and former prime minister. Although it sometimes suited him to let the Lords nip the Asquith government, he found the Upper House far from tame or easily leashed.

Then the best part of a century later, the same dog appeared as a regular phrase. Towards the end of George W. Bush's presidency, when his disastrous Iraq war had made him an outcast shunned by almost all foreign leaders, the witty Maureen Dowd of the New York Times imagined "W" sitting morosely in the White House with no friends or companions left except for Barney and Tony, "his Scotch terrier and his English poodle".

That was how Tony Blair seemed to many on both sides of the Atlantic. Still, it leaves few apt canine metaphors to describe the humiliating treatment Gordon Brown has just received from Barack Obama in New York, veritably a case for the RSPCA.

parliament in Jeremy Thorpe's constituency as the candidate of the Doglovers' Party. This was an elaborate tease on Waugh's part against the leader of the Liberal party, who had been accused of a plot to silence someone who claimed to be his former boyfriend, who was threatening to ruin his career. Whether or not there was serious attempt to kill the young man, there was no doubt that his dog Rinka had been shot dead, and Waugh's straight-faced candidacy was a not very gentle reminder of that sad event.

When the last Tory government passed the Dangerous Dogs Act, it led to endless difficulties for police and courts. That should have served as a warning against hasty legislation in response to general panic, but the warning has not been heeded, as the lamentable law aimed at child abuse now shows. Parliament might bear it in mind before they try to shove a microchip into every dog in the country.

No one has lately called Lord Mandelson Mr Brown's poodle. If anything their relationship is the other way round, with the business secretary today – such are the revenges brought by time's whirligig – in a position, most commentators agree, to make the prime minister sit up and beg, or even have him sent on a last journey to the vet.

On Sunday, Mandelson admitted that Labour were "underdogs". He went on to say that they could still bark and bite, as it were, or at any rate that Labour might yet win the election. But then he has also dropped broad hints that he would work with a Tory government, and David Cameron will be aware that this is no ordinary lapdog growling.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all