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A Dog’s Life

28 February 2012

Nick Clegg sent a letter yesterday. It was billed as being quite important. In fact, he thought it was so important that he sent it to the PM and the press (see full text). To be fair, he had a little help – it was co-signed by Baroness Shirley Williams and was designed to set out the need for final amendments to the controversial NHS bill.

This came after a weekend of increased coalition tensions. As well as the rumblings over the NHS, Clegg has also been promoting his plan for an elected House of Lords and his party has been lobbying hard for further changes to the tax system. All of which has led to some notable Conservative anger.

Downing Street has found itself facing both ways as it tries to play down the NHS calls. The issue of Lords’ reform led to some amusing sniping by the maverick back bencher Philip Davies. And, appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, former Defence Secretary Liam Fox was drawn on the well-worn “tail-wagging” accusation by Andrew Neil.

All of which is a good excuse to explore some other memorable canine metaphors…

To start with one of the most famous. Namely, the accusation in the run up to the Iraq war that Tony Blair was little more than America’s – or, specifically, George W. Bush’s – poodle.

Less well-remembered, but still familiar, was The Times‘s  reporting on a battle between the Labour Party and the Transport and General Workers Union in 1993. Reporting from the TGWU’c conference it quoted one delegate as saying “We are not the dog wagging the tail. We are the dog”.

On December 15th 1977, following the House of Commons rejection of calls for Proportional Representation, the same paper noted that the Liberals were seen ‘not as a watchdog but as the Government’s poodle’ because the party were keeping Jim Callaghan’s administration in power during the ongoing winter of discontent.

In another familiar-sounding story, this time from July 1954, The Economist used the ‘dog wagging’ metaphor to describe the Bond Market’s relationship with Churchill’s Conservative government.

And, who can forget Harold Wilson being described as ‘Nye’s little dog’ in the aftermath of his resignation – alongside Aneurin Bevan – over NHS charges in April 1951.

It really is a dog’s life.

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