There’s nothing quite like the description “animal lover” to engender good will towards politicians. When Sir David Amess MP was tragically murdered last October, of the many just causes he championed one was singled out above all others as evidence of his good character: his animal welfare activism.
Amess was one of very few lifelong parliamentary campaigners for animal rights. He was not so unusual in being an MP who owned a pet. However not all are such genuine devotees. Politicians have long used a variety of species to curry good will and to create a general air of kindliness.
One blatant example was David Cameron’s staged hugs with Arctic-dwelling huskies whilst on a mission in 2006 to shed his party’s unfortunate “nasty” label. The Obama family’s Portuguese water dogs gained international adoration, bolstering belief in the President’s regular family values and his relatability. So many American politicians pick up pups that commentators invented the term “puppaganda”. Donald Trump was one of only three presidents not to usher a pet into the White House.
In Britain, the Johnsons’ adoption of Dilyn warmed hearts – even more so because the couple chose a rescue dog (charitable) rather than purchase a thoroughbred (snooty). All modern French presidents have kept dogs – mostly labradors.
Instagram has made the PR rewards of pet ownership easier to reap. Animals signal “warm”, “not nasty” and “fun-loving” far better than any slogan or hairstyle. Emmanuel Macron adopted Nemo, a Labrador-Griffon cross, last December and urged fellow citizens to consider adopting too, in a video posted on Instagram that received half a million views.
For politician readers, Mace’s advice would be to choose your pet wisely. Go for lizards, as former mayor of London Ken Livingstone did, and you may find yourself being referred to by the slippery nickname “King Newt”. It may also be worth naming your domesticated arachnida with care. Cronus, Gavin Williamson’s Mexican redknee tarantula, shares his name with the Greek god who ate his own children. It didn’t bode well for Williamson’s tenure as education secretary, which after two years of chaos culminated in his dismissal last September.