Shropshire Star

Political column – November 25

As he gave his much-vaunted Autumn Statement, Jeremy Hunt made no mention of the influence on his decision-making process, if any, of Poppy the Labrador.


This glaring omission appears to have gone unnoticed by commentators. He could at least have been asked what his pet dog thought of it all.

Throughout history there have been plenty of famous political pets. Humphrey the cat was a Downing Street fixture. Hillary Clinton had a cat called Socks. Harold Wilson had Paddy the dog.

Over his long life Winston Churchill had lots of pets of different sorts, including a dog called Rufus.

You can imagine Sir Winston settling into an armchair at the end of a long day, glass of whisky in hand, looking at his pet dog and growling: "Well, what do you think of it all?"

It is a truth universally acknowledged that non-human life is blessed with intuition and abilities way beyond ours and in many cases beyond our comprehension. We simply don't understand how they do it.

The new president of Argentina is considered a crackpot because he says his five dogs are the best strategists in the world and advise him on a host of issues. Time will tell.

We can however note that a lot of our troubles are the result of human fallibility. For instance, the financial system was, and continues to be, run by highly paid "experts" who proved to be anything but when it all came crashing down in 2008.

It is quite possible that better financial decisions could have been made by a bunch of drunken nematodes let loose on a randomiser. At least they would not have been motivated by greed (unless nematode food was used as a motivational tool).

Whether Poppy was consulted or not, Jeremy Hunt's statement was a triumphant vindication of my contention, repeated so often that by now you will be thoroughly bored with it, that economic forecasts are so regularly proven wrong that they should not be presented as being in any sense reliable or as an indication of what actually will happen.

What Mr Hunt told the Commons was basically this: "I have got the headroom for these measures because the forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility were all wrong."

He then rather ruined things by giving lots of new forecasts about how what he was doing was going to make things better. Those forecasts are not to be taken seriously. They will be shown to be as rubbish as the rubbish forecasts of the OBR.

The idea that dogs can influence decisions is not fanciful, as I know of at least one case when it may have happened.

My dad was a headmaster and every day would take Bosun in to school with him. Bosun was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Now, I know what you're thinking, but I can assure you that as Bosun mingled among the pupils he was in no danger and came to no harm.

If it happened today they would probably send in an army of child welfare people and animal welfare people, and the Ofsted inspectors wouldn't have enough words in their vocabulary to express their horror. But we're talking about many years ago when times were different and people didn't get all uptight about a lot of the things we get all uptight about now.

When my dad died I learned that Bosun may have played more of a part in school business than I had imagined. The story went that if they were interviewing for new staff, and they couldn't make up their minds about candidates of equal merit, Bosun would get the deciding vote.

In other words, if Bosun liked them, they were in.

Now it may have all been apocryphal, a light-hearted tale doing the rounds among staff as a sort of in-joke about Bosun being in school.

There again, there is some scientific basis which could justify dogs having a seat on interview panels.

Recent research published in the professional journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews indicates that dogs – and no doubt other animals too – tend to be good judges of character.

And just so you know, Rishi Sunak has a dog called Nova, while Sir Keir Starmer has a cat, and a hamster called Bear.

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