Downing Street has been criticised this week for sending a government-funded photographer to take pictures of Boris Johnson’s dog, Dilyn, playing in the snow. It’s a mark of how bored and frustrated everyone is in week 3,457 of lockdown that this obvious silly season fodder became a story at all, but nonetheless: promoting the fact the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and his fiancée have a fluffy wuffy good boy who was having lots of fun in the snow, yes he was, yes he was, is not, strictly speaking, government business.
The reason I mention all this, beside it being week 3,457 of lockdown and us all being etc, is because of how a No 10 spokesman justified the incident. He clarified that government photographers “document the work not just of the Prime Minister but of the whole cabinet”. This, half the internet noted with glee, seemed to imply that Dilyn was – despite being both two years old and (there’s no other way of saying this) a dog – a member of the cabinet. Which would obviously be ridiculous.
Except, would it really? Because, OK, Dilyn’s a dog, and a rather young dog, at that. But his record in government is actually a lot better than that of many of his colleagues.
Despite having worked at the heart of government for nearly 18 months now, Dilyn has taken relatively little reputational damage from having overseen a pandemic response that resulted in one of the worst Covid-19 death rates in the world. It was not Dilyn who failed to attend multiple Cobra meetings as the crisis began. He was not involved in the failure to lock the country down in a timely fashion, either last spring or last autumn. Nor has he been implicated in the failure to acquire enough personal protective equipment, or in the abject disaster of Test and Trace.
Dilyn has never been accused of lying to the Queen.
Dilyn the dog was not the government member who repeatedly declined to tell the public that mixing with elderly relatives in the middle of a pandemic was kind of a bad idea regardless of whether it was Christmas, and that maybe they should think of sitting it out, just this once.
Nor was it Dilyn’s decision to fund sick pay inadequately (which forced many people to work when they should have been self-isolating), or to encourage people to return to offices and restaurants (which might have helped spread the virus at a point when it could have been controlled).
While we’re on the subject of terrible mistakes made by Britain’s increasingly accident-prone Chancellor: Dilyn was not the one who talked the Prime Minister out of a two-week lockdown last September, when the second wave could still have been prevented. (Although Dilyn cannot, so far as we know, talk.)
Dilyn did not oversee last summer’s A-level results fiasco, in which thousands of 18-year-olds had their dreams trashed largely on the basis of the exam results of their school predecessors.
Nor was Dilyn the genius who thought it a good idea to allow pupils to return to school for just one day before announcing a national lockdown last month, thus combining the greatest opportunity to spread the virus with the greatest inconvenience for both teachers and parents.
Nor, come to that, has Dilyn ever blamed the victims of the Grenfell fire for their own deaths live on talk radio (a move that would no doubt have led his party colleagues to confine him to his kennel, safely away from any microphones, for the rest of the election campaign).
Dilyn has never sparked an international incident – whether by accidentally changing government policy in the Middle East while ostensibly on holiday, or by endangering the life of a British citizen through poorly chosen words. Dilyn’s record on foreign policy is, in fact, spotless.
Dilyn has never sent tweets accusing a journalist of “creepy and bizarre” behaviour merely for emailing over a question with a deadline, triggering a complaint to the Cabinet Office. Nor has he been found to have hacked the website of the former deputy leader of the Labour Party (though, in fairness, Jack Russells are not a breed known for their hacking abilities).
Dilyn has never attempted to dodge scrutiny, the day before an election, by literally hiding in a fridge.
Dilyn has not attempted to unlawfully rush through planning approval for a lucrative property development before the introduction of an infrastructure levy that would have cost its developer – a Tory donor – £40m.
Nor has Dilyn come up with a fund to remove flammable cladding from buildings so paltry that leaseholders have been left on the hook for five-figure bills, leading to a growing back-bench rebellion and a government-lobbying campaign in the Daily Mail, of all places.
Dilyn has, as it happens, failed to make any dent in the housing crisis. But this is probably because, rather than being the housing secretary charged with fixing it, he is, in fact, a dog.
Just as we don’t hold children responsible for the views or mistakes of their parents, nor should we hold pets responsible for the views or mistakes of their owners. Dilyn isn’t a Tory, or a Brexiteer: we have no reason to believe that Dilyn is anything other than a very good boy.
Yet the public does not need to know of his activities, and any attempt to publicise them for party political reasons should be funded not by the taxpayer, but by those who stand to benefit from it – that is, his owner Boris Johnson, and the Conservative Party he heads. Because Dilyn is, fundamentally, when all else is said and done, a dog.
He’d still make a better housing secretary than Robert Jenrick, mind.