The Dog Man Cometh
by Nick Mays
NOBODY CAN deny that the General Election result was a disaster for the Conservative party. After four years in Opposition, led by William Hague, the party suffered another crushing defeat at the hands of New Labour and the Liberal Democrats, ending up with just 165 seats, one seat down on its 1997 total, whilst Labour is set again with a huge majority of 168.
However, there was one crumb of comfort for the beleaguered Tories, when one of its rising stars managed to wrestle a seat from Labour control with a massive swing of 9.14%. The seat was Romford, the rising star was Andrew Rosindell and the catalyst or, more accurately, dogalyst was Rosindell's Staffordshire Bull terrier, Spike.
Andrew, 35, is a life-long dog lover and has been accompanied by Spike throughout his political career, first as Chairman of the Young Conservatives, then as a Councillor for Havering Town Council and in two previous General Election campaigns. It was a case of 'third time lucky' when Andrew hit the campaign trail, accompanied as ever by the faithful Spike, now a sedate 13-year-old, clad, as ever, in his special Union Jack waistcoat.
"I owe so much to Spike," Andrew told OUR DOGS earlier this week. "There's no doubt that people warmed to me through him, and our obvious patriotism. I think people respond to anyone who genuinely believes in what they're saying and that's why the people of Romford voted me into office. But there was a huge Spike vote, and I'll always be grateful to him for that."
Romford was one of the Tories' main targets during the 2001 election campaign, and many of the old-time Tory 'big guns' were out in force, campaigning on Rosindell's behalf, including Lord Tebbit (himself a keen dog owner) and former Prime Minister Lady Thatcher. The party's instincts proved right and Labour's slender majority of 694 was transformed into a Tory majority of 5,977, Rosindell gaining 18,931 votes to the sitting Labour MP's 12,954.
Despite being a good Conservative, Rosindell was an arch opponent of the Dangerous Dogs Act, introduced by the Major Government in 1991. He also played a key role in getting the injustices of the Act examined in Parliamentary circles after he met anti-DDA campaigner Juliette Glass in 1993 and, through her, was introduced to Alec Waters of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Council. This led to Rosindell arranging the first meeting between campaigners and parliamentarians, including the late Lord Houghton at the Houses of Commons in January 1994. In fact, Rosindell went on record as saying that he believed the DDA to be "a very un-Conservative piece of legislation."
The DDA was amended in early 1997, just before the Major Government was voted out of office and much of the pathway to the limited reforms was thanks to the influence of Andrew.
The new member for Romford is due to swear his oath of allegiance in the Commons this week. But although he faces the prospect of lots of hard work whilst in the main Opposition party over the coming years, Rosindell has one immediate ambition: "I certainly plan to bring Spike with me to State Opening of Parliament on June 20th," he smiles.
"And yes, he will be wearing his Union Jack waistcoat!"