There are few events Steerpike enjoys more than Westminster dog of the year. The competition returned today – post-Brexit and post-Covid – for the first time since 2018, with dozens of MPs entering their pooches. Hosted by the Kennel Club and Dogs Trust, it aims to raise awareness of canine-related issues and offer parliamentarians a chance to compete for the prize of top dog in SW1.
This year's event though was, understandably, overshadowed by the killing of Sir David Amess, a life-long dog lover and long-standing supporter of the awards. He entered his French bulldog Vivienne into this year's competition just weeks before his death. His friends and fellow MPs Andrew Rosindell and Mark Francois today brought her along in his honour after thousands of people chose in the public vote to name her dog of the year.
Some MPs withdrew their entries out of respect for their fallen colleague; others kept theirs in and urged support for Vivienne, clad today in her 'Make Southend a city' shirt. Unsurprisingly, she took the prize by a landslide, with tears and smiles from members of Sir David's family greeting the result. Edward Timpson's border terrier Stanley took the silver medal while bronze went to Selaine Saxby and Henry, a fox red – a popular Tory choice of breed, as Mr S has noted before.
Paul Scully's own dog Freddie gave a model demonstration of ministerial deftness by effortlessly vaulting the assembled hurdles while Tommy Sheppard revelled in his 'respectful but not deferential' cocker spaniel Henry. Matt Vickers did his best with his friend's pomihuaha, dressing her in an appropriately pumpkin-themed Halloween outfit – but even he could do so much with Karen, who lived up to her name by yapping in disgust after missing out on a podium finish. Still, as Defra minister Lord Benyon quipped: 'it's been a great success; there's been no fighting, growling and biting – and even the dogs were behaved.'
But the day belonged to Sir David. For years, the late MP hosted a fabulous collection of pets on the parliamentary estate – something to which the long-suffering authorities turned a blind eye. His assorted collection of terrapins, fish tanks and pet budgerigars are now being re-homed among his parliamentary colleagues, with various MPs being given a bird or two to keep in their own offices.
As Francois told Steerpike: 'I think it's an open secret that Sir David had some animals in Westminster, completely contrary to all the rules and all of those will now be found a good home.' Rosindell added: 'What we have to do now is in his memory, carry on his legacy. This is absolutely one of those occasions and the fact that Vivienne is not only in the contest but has won the contest – I know that David would be so thrilled. He would love every moment of this.'
The current hope among some in the Westminster tea rooms is that the Pope will turn up to his Requiem Mass at Westminster Cathedral in a few weeks time. Sir David was a regular visitor to the Vatican and, on one occasion, inadvertently had a cough sweet blessed by the Holy Father.
Such a visit would seem improbable – but then again, as one MP remarked to Mr S: 'Knowing David, I wouldn't have put it past him.'