A Dog’s Dinner

6 June 2024

A Dog’s Dinner

by Paul Branch

This past week we have had the pleasure of a house guest to brighten our humdrum lives – Timmy the Cairn terrier has been taking a break from his usual family and revelling in his vibrant Cotswolds surroundings.   Timmy is four years old, approaching his prime and much calmer and indeed more mature than the ebullient annoyingly bouncy puppy we used to know.  He has a good relationship with the likes of us, clearly understanding our human gestures and indeed most of our doggy vocabulary when addressed directly.  The single word “dinner”, used either early in the morning or in the evening, evokes an immediate response with an instant tail-wagging presence next to his feeding bowl.  Others such as “sit”, “stay”, “stop that” or “get off the sofa … NOW!!” clearly require more complex processing by his hyper-intelligent doggy brain.

He obviously absorbs all these words fully, and it seems that what follows is a lightning-quick assessment of an appropriate response, in the latter cases usually in the negative.  This can obviously result in disappointment on our part, but equally obviously what we asked for did not fully accord with Timmy’s conclusion of what would be in his own best interest, a decision-making process we have had to learn to accept.  In many respects this is akin to human attitudes in Italy to various traffic regulations, where a green light is the signal for the immediate (sometimes premature) reaction of severe acceleration (or an immediate klaxon cacophony indicating severe displeasure at even the slightest hint of delay), whereas trivia such as red lights and speed limits are shrugged off as mere passing suggestions, where conforming would not necessarily coincide with the personal best interests of the driver.  Not that Timmy has yet mastered the art of driving, but when he does I suspect he will adopt Italianate principles.

And so to politics.  With the general election now looming, the inundation of policies new and old will increase relentlessly until 4 July when promises, dreams and hare-brained schemes come to a merciful end, and within a couple of days either Sunak or Starmer need to turn what they have promoted into the real thing and commit to actual actions.  It would be reasonable to assume that these would, in their opinion, be in the best interests of the country as a whole.  Clearly they cannot hope to please and benefit everyone to exactly the same extent, but overall the principles of a democratically elected government run by hopefully principled and indeed honourable people are well understood.  In essence, the job of the new government will be to govern for our benefit, rather than for their own individual personal interests, or those of their political party.

So what are the chances of that happening?   History can be a guide to what to expect, and it ain’t pretty whether your inclination is to the Right or the Left.   The Post Office handling of its Horizon deficiencies in defence of its “brand” is a sorry and shameful example of government setting its own priorities much higher than those of the people it is supposed to serve, and ignoring the deficiencies of those running the institution it owns.  The health scandals of infected blood and sewage-strewn water are others.  The Windrush and Grenfell Tower fallouts likewise still linger on with little sign of resolution or compensation.   And most recently we’ve had the unedifying spectacle of the government demanding repayment with menaces from those carers whose miserly allowances were overpaid through no fault of their own.  Add to this the apparent neglect to fulfil government’s prime duty — the safety and security of its citizens, specifically preparedness for the defence of the realm against armed invaders and against disease – and one starts to suspect that “dog’s dinner” doesn’t do justice to the shambolic performance of successive governments in recent decades.

Poor Rishi Sunak is unlucky enough to be at the receiving end of the electorate’s ire and consequent thirst for revenge, although that’s not to say he’s not contributed to our current plight.  One would have thought Liz Truss would have been an easy act to follow, and it’s probably true that our finances today aren’t still completely through the floor, but sadly our current PM hasn’t covered himself in glory.    However, harping on the past is only a temporary salve to the effects of high blood pressure — what can an incoming government do to put us on the road to happiness and fulfilment?  How do we overcome the tendencies to lurch in the directions of self-interest, self-glorification and sheer incompetence?

Perhaps a place to start is to look at how our particular brand of democracy works and its emphasis on party politics and indeed the almost religious reverence afforded to “The Party”, of whichever hue.  It’s probably fair to say that no one single political party has got everything right all of the time.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses, each has representatives with varying talents and capabilities.  There is recognition that focusing on the combined strengths of the respective parties can bring about benefits to debate and policy-making, as exemplified by the various cross-party committees at work in the House of Commons, but these too have a habit of degenerating into divisions along party lines.   As do exchanges between party leaders where points-scoring and other discussions reminiscent of a primary school playground do nothing to assure the electorate that the country is in safe hands.  It would seem sensible for the leadership of a newly-elected government to have a conversation with opposition leaders about working together:  on the manner and tone of exchanges across the floor of the House, on sharing ideas for new policies at the preliminary stage, even asking for inputs on how a policy could be improved in the best interests of the country. 

After David Cameron’s ascendency to leader of the Conservative Party in opposition to Tony Blair’s Labour government, it’s said that Cameron initiated just such a discussion which led to a much saner period of Prime Minister’s Questions without the usual mud-slinging, crowing and braying.  But all too quickly the experiment was abandoned and we were back to the usual antics of playing to the gallery.   The major problem with such a civilised and respectful form of behaviour is that it becomes boring … there is no stage on which our more eccentric, egotistical, self-serving clowning politicians can shine.  Without the freedom to express themselves completely as they wish, they lose their appeal to the wider electorate, and The Party in turn loses its star performer and vote-winner.  After all, everyone likes a “personality” … don’t they …?   What might have happened, for example, if Boris Johnson’s natural ebullience had been constrained by a more adult code of behaviour?   And will Nigel Farage be able to expound in his own inimitable fashion on matters he holds dear if he were to win the election in Clacton-on-Sea?    Some would decry the restraining of such characters in Parliament, others might well think it about time that our politicians grew up.

The incoming government will have many grave issues to address, the continued existence of our planet being a significant one, be it climate change or how to deal with Vladimir Putin.   Our hope is they do their best for us and not just for themselves.  If they don’t, we might just as well have voted for Timmy and his Cairn Terrier Party.

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