Westminster Dog of the Year: Why is the contest nearly always won by a Tory?

Rhodri Marsden wonders if the only conclusion can be that dog-loving is right wing

Rhodri Marsden@rhodri
Thursday 29 October 2015 21:28
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Best in show: David Warburton with his dog Bailey, Chris Matheson with Casper, Hugo Swire with Rocco, and Alec Shelbrooke with Maggie and Boris compete for the title of Westminster Dog of the Year
Best in show: David Warburton with his dog Bailey, Chris Matheson with Casper, Hugo Swire with Rocco, and Alec Shelbrooke with Maggie and Boris compete for the title of Westminster Dog of the Year

It's been a big year for the Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns. Back in May she ousted former shadow Chancellor Ed Balls from his seat in Morley and Outwood by the narrowest of margins, and yesterday she eclipsed that achievement by picking up an award described by the Kennel Club as "arguably the most sought after title in politics". Her dogs, Lady and Godiva, were jointly crowned Westminster Dog of the Year, a kind of political Crufts that MPs and peers can enter – partly to raise awareness of dog-welfare issues, partly in the hope of emerging triumphant. The Chief Whippet, if you like.

The Kennel Club's secretary, Caroline Kisko, acknowledged before yesterday's competition that it tends to be judged on rather "unusual criteria", and the winners weren't short of unconventional attributes. Lady (a schnauzer crossed with a Jack Russell/labrador) is described by Jenkyns as a "Sagittarius" with a "toothy smile", while Godiva (a mini-schnauzer, Pisces) reportedly has astonishing eyelashes – "the longest I've ever seen on a dog" – and is also a "good singer". There was no singing round in yesterday's showdown; most of the action seemed to involve dogs showing a vague interest in jumping over obstacles in Victoria Tower Gardens while male Conservative MPs in suits hared along beside them. It wasn't always clear who was leading whom.

Despite The Kennel Club's assertion that proceedings are "strictly apolitical", the 23-year-old contest has become dominated by Tories. This year saw 15 Conservative MPs enter the fray alongside only three Labour MPs and one cross-bench peer. Indeed, the past eight years have seen only one Labour victor, Rob Flello, who won last year with his German shepherd, Diesel, after a long run of Tory winners (Noodle, Star, Wilberforce, Charlie, Molly and Fozzy Bear).

Statistics that plot political allegiance against dog ownership are thin on the ground, but there seems to be a supposition amongst MPs that their dogs share their political views. Alec Shelbrooke, the Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, entered the contest with his Jack Russell/poodle cross named "Boris" alongside his West Highland terrier "Maggie", while Craig Williams, Conservative MP for Cardiff North, owns a Welsh Springer Spaniel called "Winston". ("Who's the greatest wartime leader of the 20th century, then? Yes, you are! That's right! Fetch!")

Miniature Schnauzers Godiva (left) and Lady (right) with their owner Andrea Jenkyns MP

And if you thought that dogs couldn't give a woof about politics, this show says otherwise. In a pre-competition questionnaire, each canine entrant is asked what they would do if they were prime minister for a day; the answers are obediently supplied by MPs in the first person singular, as if spoken by a dog doing some kind of Barky Political Broadcast.

Some – such as Cholmeley, the labrador belonging to David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield South – are game ("support hard-working dogs, cut VAT on dog treats, make dog naps pay") as is Stanley, Edward Timpson MP's Border Terrier ("give dogs the vote !") but others use the opportunity to raise the kind of dog-related issues that the Kennel Club presumably want to highlight: preventing the illegal importing of puppies from across the EU, introducing mandatory chipping and licensing of breeders, making "dog-poop" bags biodegrade more quickly and so on. The manifesto of the eventual winners was strong: stop overbreeding and puppy farming, more education to help ensure better care of our pets, stop dogs being left in cars on a hot day. Sensible policies for a brighter tomorrow.

As successive US presidents have found, dog ownership does seem to make politicians appear slightly more human. (Last year's contest managed the seemingly impossible task of casting Michael Gove and Andrew Mitchell in a more friendly, caring light as they posed for the cameras with Snowy and Scarlet respectively.) But ultimately, this is just a sneak peek behind the labradors of power. Some win a lot. Others are just pedigree chumps.

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