Down with dogs. All dogs.

Dangerous dogs are a menace. But the rest of the species are bloody annoying too.

Some of you may know that I like a bit of a rant. Excuse me, then, if I stray away from domestic politics, foreign affairs, religion and culture and have a perhaps semi-hinged rant about a topic that really gets me going: dogs.

Now, there's been much news and comment in the papers this week about so-called dangerous dogs. I use the phrase "so-called" because, whether dog-lovers like it or not, all dogs are dangerous. The dog, after all, is a domesticated form of the wolf (the bloody wolf!). Oh, and there's a reason why dogs are classed as apex predators.

But, hold on, I can hear the cry from the canine contingent: what about those adorable, cute, little puppies who wouldn't harm a fly? Puppies? Harmless? Tell that to the parents of the two-month-old baby boy who was mauled to death by his puppy in Tulsa, Oklahoma in July 2008. In another case, back in 2006, a puppy chewed off a baby girl's toes while her parents were sleeping next to her. Surgeons couldn't save the girl's toes.

But vicious and vile puppies aside, there is indeed a particular and pressing issue with very dangerous and violent dogs in this country, and so I welcome the police unit set up to tackle "weapon dogs" and tasked with seizing more than 1,000 dangerous animals in its first year. I also back the call by Kit Malthouse, one of Boris Johnson's deputy mayors, for tougher sentences for criminals who use dogs to carry out vicious attacks. At Prime Minister's Questions, the Labour MP Angela Smith told the Commons about a "19-fold increase in the number of dangerous and status dogs in London since the early Nineties".

This is disturbing -- and nor is this just about London gangs and their "status" dogs. The denialism from the dog movement has to stop. Figures uncovered by the Tories suggest that 100 people every week, across the UK, are treated in hospital after being bitten by a dog (these figures don't include attacks by dogs on other pets).

One of the attacks cited in yesterday's Standard was on the railway engineer James Rehill, 78, "who was 'dragged like a doll' through the street in a fatal attack by his own dog in January last year. Witnesses looked on in horror as Mr Rehill was savaged by his Rottweiler in Newham." Every death is a tragedy -- but isn't Mr Rehill partly to blame for his horrible fate for keeping a Rottweiler as a bloody pet in the first place? Isn't this part of the problem? The dreams and delusions of the dog-lovers (and, especially, the "dangerous dog"-lovers) -- "My dog is great", "My dog is harmless", "My dog loves me", blah blah blah.

Love me, forgive my dog

This brings me on to dog-owners. They are perhaps more to blame for all this than their dogs. Many of them -- not all, I accept, but many -- are as inconsiderate, noisy, aggressive, unhygienic and in-yer-face as the disgusting and hyperactive mutts that they own, cosset, cuddle and parade in public.

Aside from the risk of being killed, mauled or bitten by a stray dog in a public place, I cannot stand the manner in which strange, overexuberant dogs feel entitled to touch you, lick you, jump on you, chase you and/or block you -- and the manner in which their owners instantly try to excuse or exonerate their misdemeanours. It is nothing short of antisocial behaviour.

How, for example, should we react to owners who allow their dogs to bark all night and ruin the sleep of their neighbours? What about those owners who allow their dogs to piss and poop in the street (and who knows what foul and disgusting deeds they allow their four-legged friends to get up inside their own homes)?

How do you explain the ridiculous way in which a negative reaction to their dog is regarded as the fault of the supposedly sanctimonious or party-pooping objector, and not of their own dirty, pushy and unruly animal? Oh, and why have our public parks become chaotic hellholes where no rules or limits seem to apply to dogs or dog-owners?

In fact, you may have guessed by now, and it might upset some of you to hear me say this, but I'm not, by any standards, an animal-lover. Unless the said animal is dead and on my plate. For me, animals, as they say, have two functions: to taste good and fit well.

But, in particular, I despise and loathe dogs (which, of course, have neither a culinary nor a sartorial function -- unless you live in South Korea). They are disgusting, dirty animals that should never have become pets, let alone such popular pets (there are an estimated eight million dogs in the UK. I feel like vomiting as I type out this gruesome and dispiriting statistic.)

Whose friend?

Dogs have become frustratingly ubiquitous in modern Britain. They're literally everywhere. Even homeless people have them. I for one refuse to spare any change for a beggar in an alleyway, who sits looking miserable with a dog on his lap. How do I know he won't spend my pound coin on Pedigree Chum, instead of a warm cup of coffee? And if he can't afford a roof over his head, should he really be wasting time, energy and money on a pet?

(The other depressing aspect of the homeless and the love for dogs is the manner in which members of the great British public -- animal-lovers to the core, but disdainful of the poor -- will often ignore and/or step over a prostrate beggar in the street but take a moment to give his ugly mutt a pat on the head. Bizarre.)

On a side note, I also have two isses with the ubiquitous phrase "A dog is a man's best friend": (a) Did anyone ask the dog? and (b) If you're someone who has no friends and needs dogs for company and socialising, fine, so be it, pathetic as that may be, but don't implicate the rest of the human race in your animal delusions, please.

Frankly, I share the rage, frustration and annoyance expressed so vividly by the comedian Mark Steel, in this classic Independent column, from November 2000:

The best insight I had into the mind of dog-owners was while I lived on a council estate, and one dog would regularly crap at the bottom of the stairs to the block. One day, I caught it in mid-dump, and asked the owner if he could not do it again.

He said, "Well, it's a dog; it's got to go somewhere." I pledged that if I ever became a millionaire, I'd hire a huge herd of buffalo and get them to gallop through his flat. And when he complained, I'd say, "Well, they're buffalo, they've got to stampede somewhere."

He adds:

Because owning a dog is fundamentally antisocial. It's practised by the same people who swerve their car across the road while shouting into their mobile, or jump in a swimming pool to do the backstroke diagonally from one corner to the other. I bet the proportion of dog-owners who vote Conservative is significantly higher than, say, of people who own a tortoise.

Is he right?

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation