The Paul Richards column
Dogs featured heavily in David Cameron’s speech yesterday.
He was keen to be seen as the ‘top dog’, so he said ‘leadership’ nineteen times. He wanted us to know the economy has gone to the dogs. He appealed to the ‘bulldog spirit’ of a Britain great once again, with Britannia ruling the waves without armbands.
He wanted to establish the myth that last’s week’s Labour Conference was a Tony Blair hate-fest, with delegates boo-ing Blair’s face on a big screen, like the Two Minutes’ Hate directed at Emmanuel Goldstein in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In reality it was only a small section of the audience, representing die-hard Labour supporters who didn’t like Blair in 1994, and never subsequently warmed to him, with all that pesky winning and making stuff better.
There was a dog fighting metaphor (‘it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog’) drawn from an especially unpleasant and illegal form of animal cruelty. It made me wonder if he was going to announce the repeal of the 1835 Cruelty to Animals Act, and re-introduce rat pits, cock-fights and bear-baiting as ‘red meat’ for his activist base. Instead, remarkably, and laudably, he announced gay marriages, which caused his activist base to shuffle uncomfortably in their seats and suppress their shudders of revulsion.
There was even a dog whistle, in the shape of attacks on health and safety regulations on the use of solvents, and the EU directives on diabetic people driving cars. It’s hard to show ‘leadership’ and simultaneously appeal to the kind of people who repeat things they’ve read in the Daily Mail to one another about Europe, gypsies and asylum seekers over gin and tonic in dismal sports clubs. He ended up sounding like one of Ann Winterton’s rugby club after-dinner speeches.
But the most significant dog, as any Sherlock Holmesian will tell you, is the dog that didn’t bark, which gives Holmes the vital clue in the hunt for missing racehorse Silver Blaze.
Yes, Cameron addressed the economy, the riots, Libya, and political correctness gone mad. But he signally failed to mention the issue which defined his early period of leadership: the environment. If he really believes that man-made climate change represents a major threat to millions around the world, then to omit to mention it is something of a three-pipe problem. Why did he leave it out? After all, he has said this will be the ‘greenest government ever’. His most memorable photo-opportunity was at the Norwegian glaciers with the pack of huskies (more dogs!) with Greg Barker MP carrying his bags. What might the explanation be?
It is possible that in the chaos of redrafting that took place in the hours before the speech, the section on the environment got left out. The speech was obviously the work of many hands, with different sections knitted together with all the finesse of Frankenstein’s needlework on his monster. The disastrous pre-briefing about paying off credit cards meant last-minute changes, memory sticks being juggled, and furious typing by the autocue operators. So perhaps the stanzas addressing the most serious threat to our planet were omitted by mistake? But even in the pre-speech pantomime backstage, Cameron had a team checking every line, so such a huge error would surely be impossible. Surely the man himself would notice a gaping environment-shaped hole in the most important speech of the political year?
Or maybe Cameron considered the issue so frightening, so dominant, that he didn’t want to frighten us. A speech purely focussing on the projected death tolls caused by rising sea levels, the wars and famines that will be caused by water shortages and forced mass migration, the sea-level cities that will disappear, might not chime with the mood of the hall. And it’s hard to get a dog reference relating to global warming. So he decided it was better to not tell us the bad news. But this one doesn’t stack up either, because he was more than happy to scare the bejesus out of us on the economy.
So, as Arthur Conan Doyle so rightly pointed out, once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. The truth is that Cameron failed to mention the environment because he, and his government, don’t really care much about it. They consider it a sideshow in an economic downturn. The issue served a useful purpose in the detoxification strategy after 2005. It gives Chris Huhne something to do in the Cabinet (but firmly under a Treasury restraining order). But the fact is that the shift to a low-carbon economy is not on the government’s to-do list. George Osborne made it clear in his speech by saying it out loud. David Cameron made it equally clear yesterday by not mentioning it at all. He had the space in his long speech for highlighter pens and Chinese diabetics, but not climate change, or any of the useless government schemes purporting to be tackling it. His silence tells us all we need to know.
Let’s give the last word to Sherlock: ‘I had grasped the significance of the silence of the dog, for one true inference invariably suggests others… Obviously the midnight visitor was someone whom the dog knew well. It was Straker who removed Silver Blaze from his stall and led him out on to the moor.’