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Spike R.I.P.

THE POLITICAL world has lost one of its best-known and instantly recognisable figures, writes Nick Mays. On April 23rd - St George’s Day - ‘Spike’ the patriotic Staffordshire Bull terrier, often to be seen sporting a Union Jack waistcoat and accompany his owner, Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, died aged just over 14 years.

During the 2001 General Election there was one crumb of comfort for the beleaguered Tories, when one of their rising stars managed to wrest 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 Mr Rosindell’s dog Spike.

Andrew Rosindell, 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 sporting his special Union Jack waistcoat.

“I owe so much to Spike,” Mr Rosindell said at the time. “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 Andrew’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, Andrew Rosindell was an arch opponent of the Dangerous Dogs Act, introduced by the Major Government in 1991. He 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 the Alec Walters of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Council. This led to Andrew arranging the first meeting between campaigners and parliamentarians, including the late Lord Houghton at the Houses of Commons in January 1994. In fact, Andrew went on record as saying that he believed the DDA to be “a very un-Conservative piece of legislation.”

According to Mr Rosindell, Spike had been somewhat off-colour for several weeks leading up to his death, but on the morning of Tuesday, April 23rd, he seemed reasonably happy and delighted at sitting out in the Rosindell family garden in the warm sunshine.

“I left for the House of Commons at about 8.45 that morning,” recounts Mr Rosindell. “I went out to Spike and gave him a pat. He seemed perfectly happy sitting in the sun as I left. One hour later, my mother looked out and saw that he’d walked over to his bowl of water and had just keeled over. He was lying next to the bowl as though he’d just suddenly fallen asleep.”

Boisterous

It is believed that Spike suffered a massive heart attack and died instantly. Mr Rosindell’s mother did not inform him of Spike’s death until the afternoon. “I was due to appear on television and she didn’t want to distract me from that,” he recounts. “As soon as she did tell me, I hurried home and had his body removed to a pet crematorium. I intend to have his ashes back and we’ll decide to scatter them somewhere that meant a lot to Spike, one of his favourite places.”

Mr Rosindell had acquired Spike when he was just over two years old. The dog had been owned by one of Mr Rosindell’s friends and was quite a boisterous dog. As the friend had three young children, it was hard for him to exercise Spike adequately, so Mr Rosindell would often take Spike for a walk or look after him whilst the family were away. Eventually, it was agreed that Spike had bonded so firmly with Mr Rosindell that he should keep him and become his master- so thus began one of the closest human/canine relationships of all.

“Spike was by my side through three General Election campaigns and several local election campaigns,” recalls Mr Rosindell. “It was thanks to Spike that Havering Town Hall admitted dogs. I was a new councillor and pretty rebellious and I used to take Spike into the town hall with me. Somebody pointed out that there was a ‘No Dogs’ sign there, and the matter was raised in the council chamber. But despite the Leader of the Council being a very left-wing Labourite, he was a dog lover and he suggested that rather than ban Spike, they should lift the ban, so the sign was removed and all dogs were welcomed to Havering Town Hall!”

Spike was admired by many people, but surely his most high profile fan was Baroness Thatcher who was delighted to be photographed with Spike - and Mr Rosindell - on the hustings during the 2001 General Election.

“She adored him and took to him straight away,” says Mr Rosindell. “She stroked him and talked to him, much to the delight of the press photographers.”

Spike’s last public appearance was inn October 2001 at the Westminster Dog the Year Contest went into Westminster Dog of Year contest. “After the election, it was almost as if he put his all into it, realised I’d finally been elected and relaxed, going into gradual decline,” says Mr Rosindell. “It was touch and go whether he’d feel up to going to the show. I spruced him up for the show and on that day, he got some life back into him and performed very well. He came 3rd overall and had all press round him.”

Speaking with genuine emotion. Andrew Rosindell sums up the life of Spike, his true best friend: “Quite frankly, he was better than any party agent you could employ, better than any PR consultant you pay to work for you. He had the right instinct for everything and was also excellent company. He was like a human being, but without the faults.

“It’s very appropriate that my patriotic dog should die on St George’s Day. I am missing him terribly, but I feel he’s still there, trotting along at my side - and I think he always will be.”