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BREX FACTOR: Boris Johnson has been sold a pup over his dog strategy

Steve Anglesey says "There is no point in even attempting a dead cat strategy when our pig-headed government is prepared to weasel out of its promises." - Credit: Archant

The arrival of Dylin the dog in Downing Street won’t help his ailing owner, says STEVE ANGLESEY

If anyone doubted that Boris Johnson would be a dutiful pet owner, just look at the dog’s breakfast he made of his big speech in Downing Street at the start of the week.

Looking hounded and going round in circles, with one ear cocked to noises off, the prime minister left with his tail between his legs, having taken just a few hours to become one of those owners who start to look like their pooches. His performance was so bad – could this have been the first time it occurred to Johnson that he actually isn’t going to be any good in this job? – that Boris’ next appearance behind the No.10 lectern should be undertaken while wearing a giant cone of shame.

There has been speculation that Dilyn the live dog is actually a dead cat; an example of the strategy once espoused by the Conservative campaign guru Lynton Crosby and discussed by the future PM in an old Telegraph column.

“Let us suppose you are losing an argument,” he wrote in March 2013. “The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner mate describes as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table, mate’.

“The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout: ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

A useful tactic in less frenetic times, no doubt. But what can a tiny Jack Russell rescue dog do to rescue Johnson this week, when not even hauling the rotting corpse of Digby, The Biggest Dog In The World onto the green baize of the cabinet table would move the conversation away from small matters like the constitutional crisis, the implosion of the Conservative Party and a probable fourth major democratic event in the same number of years?

In truth, there is no point in even attempting a dead cat strategy when our pig-headed government is prepared to weasel out of its promises, and let the country go to the dogs so long as we don’t hold our horses before October 31. Thankfully, the chickens are now coming home to roost, partly thanks to the cat being let out of the bag by the likes of Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, (caught on camera admitting the suspension of parliament was because “we’ve suddenly found ourselves with no majority”), Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, (who warned the PM that thinking the EU would bin the backstop was “complete fantasy”) and the utterly barking Dominic Cummings (said to have described negotiations with the EU as “a sham” in internal strategy meetings).

As Cummings’ supposed game of four-dimensional chess turns out to have had all the complexity of snakes and ladders, leaving Johnson and Dylin on the verge of ejection from their new home, is the mutt doomed to follow in the pawsteps of Bill Clinton’s labrador retriever Buddy?

This diversion dog arrived at the White House in December 1997, entirely coincidentally the same month in which details of the president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky began to leak. Alas, despite a publicity campaign which included Hillary Clinton publishing a book of letters written by children to the photogenic canine, Buddy did little to divert a transfixed nation from the ins and outs of the whole sordid business. In short: who the hell cares about Spot the Dog when there are other spots on the intern’s dress?

But over here, there is a more successful example of doggy diplomacy. In 1973, a family from Rugby saved the then leader of the opposition Harold Wilson from the sea off the Isles of Scilly, where he had fallen out of his dinghy.

When the rescuers read the next day’s papers they were surprised to find Wilson’s dog Paddy being blamed for tipping Wilson into the drink, particularly since they had actually found the labrador chained to a fisherman’s hut on the beach. The spin, though, helped Wilson escape unfavourable comparisons with the Edward Heath, an accomplished sailor, and within six months he would unseat the Tory prime minister in a general election. Today’s government looks certain to face the public much sooner than that.

On Monday it claimed its proposals for an alternative to the backstop are almost ready, a source saying: “We have preliminary worked-up legal texts plus assessments of the legal and process changes needed to replace checks otherwise required at Irish border, and will feed all these in at the right moment.”

What is the betting when the moment of truth arrives and the EU demand to see what Boris Johnson has come up with, he’ll shrug, point towards Dilyn and say: “The dog ate my homework”?

In this column last week I joked that Brexiteer politicians are so obsessed with the Second World War they no doubt refer to the crisis as “the end of the beginning” of Brexit. Four days later, David Davis popped up in the Telegraph to declare “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

It is, of course, is a quote from Winston Churchill. His pale shadow Mr Johnson continued the theme by stating “I will never surrender” in the Commons chamber on Tuesday

As to what the wartime prime minister would have made of government attempts to blackmail Tory MPs to vote against their consciences via the threat of deselection, we have this quote from a speech he made in Essex in 1955, a few days before the end of his second term as PM: “The first duty of a Member of Parliament is to do what he thinks, in his faithful and disinterested judgement, is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate…

“It is only in the third place that his duty to party organisation or programme takes rank. All these three loyalties should be observed, but there in no doubt of the order in which they stand under any healthy manifestation of democracy”.

Brexiteers of the week:


If the name of the Brexit Party’s prospective candidate for Salisbury seems familiar, it’s because of his earlier walk-on role in this whole mess. Malins, a QC, was hired by the disgraced data firm Cambridge Analytica to lead an independent inquiry into accusations of political wrongdoing, including that statistics it harvested inappropriately from Facebook users were used by pro-Brexit groups during the referendum.

Malins’ report surprised many by concluding that the allegations were not “borne out by the facts”. The joy the company must have felt at this unexpected clean bill of health was only slightly tempered by the fact that it shut down on the day the report was made public, citing in part the legal fees associated with his investigation!


A day before Boris Johson’s halting, rattled speech outside No.10, Judy Finnigan’s worse half penned a gushing tribute to the prime minister in the batshit Sunday Express, praising his “gift for words”. Wrote Madeley: “He is gloriously off-piste. He thinks aloud, ad-libs, jokes, and generally has a good time.”

The television presenter contrasted that with Johnson’s predecessor in No.10, writing: “One of May’s (many) problems was that she weighed every word, every clause, every aside, comment and ad-lib to the nth degree.”

Yes, spare us from politicians who actually think before they speak! No doubt the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who Johnson condemned to a longer spell in an Iranian prison when he blusteringly told a Commons committee she had been “teaching people journalism” in the country, would agree.


Brexiteers were outraged when they learned the Archbishop of Canterbury was considering an offer to chair a proposed citizens’ assembly examining alternatives to a no-deal Brexit

“Deeply inappropriate,” huffed Iain Duncan Smith. “Might be better for @justinwelby to be in talks about why fewer people are attending @churchofengland rather than pretend he is just trying to stop a no-deal. He wants to stop us leaving,” twittered Kate Hoey. “For God’s sake, now even the Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to derail Brexit,” ranted Brexit Party MEP Martin Daubney.

What happened a few days later, when Welby was quoted as saying: “The majority voted Leave – we may not like it, but that is democracy; and that means we have to stop whingeing about it”? His critics observed a church-like silence…


The Inbetweeners actor claimed on a podcast that we should leave the EU because much of Europe is a “f***ing s**thole”. Buckley said: “A lot of people are upset that we’re leaving the EU. I’m sure there’s more to it, but whenever I go to Spain or Greece or whatever I’m like… let’s just leave this. Look at it. You can’t drink the water, you can’t flush paper down the toilets. What are you doing? Why are we sticking around?”

He added: “It’s a f***ing s**thole, the lot of it. The roads are made out of stones, you’ve got walls that are collapsing… I’m not into it, man.”

Buckley then employed the famous Clarkson defence, claiming he was just being “stupid and flippant”. Try adding “and unfunny”.

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