Johnson is subdued but his dog is causing havoc. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? | Marina Hyde

Forget the spad wars at No 10 – the real drama is over Dilyn, the prime minister’s sexually incontinent canine

“I won’t be buccaneering with people’s lives.” I think you dropped an “any more”, prime minister. But hey – let’s not tell our sad stories. Last night was the big roadmap press conference, where Boris Johnson looked into our eyes and told us he just wanted to take things slowly. He respects us too damn much for anything else.

I know we’re supposed to say better-late-than-never, but honestly – there is something slightly galling about being lectured by this guy on the next long weeks and months of serious caution. I’m not saying I want to tear the pants out of it – fine, I want to completely tear the pants out of it – but you can see why the pace of release feels confusingly slow to some people. This, alas, is inevitable when you’re governed by a prime minister who doesn’t like to set boundaries.

For pretty much the entire pandemic, right up until about 10 minutes ago, Johnson has been the teacher who wants to be cool. You know the type – messes his hair up and calls you “mate”. High-fives you when you get a right answer but claims that, in many ways, there are no wrong answers. Tells you to call him by his first name. Deals with early speculative breaches in discipline by announcing he’s not going to send you to the headmaster, mate, because he comes at this stuff from different angles. Tells you to rip out the introduction to your pandemic textbooks.

Insists he’s the same as you guys and totally gets what you’re going through, in fact he actually feels it more deeply. Claims to have been expelled from three schools as a teen. Says he hates teaching because he’s “about freedom”. Rides a dirt bike. Raps Cardi B. Chaperones a school trip where 47 pupils die.

So yes, it was quite the spectacle watching Johnson come through Downing Street’s Sars in their Eyes double doors and indicate that tonight, he was going to play the calm, authoritative setter of boundaries. Sorry, sir, but don’t act like you didn’t kill half of year 11.

The question on many people’s lips – who on earth is this guy and what has he done with Boris Johnson? – made it off the lips of the Daily Mail’s political editor, who inquired of the PM: “What’s happened to you? Have you become a gloomster?”

It was at this point that Johnson said the buccaneering thing, and something about “the crocus of hope”, and spring coming “both literally and metaphorically” (such a fabled wordsmith). He also claimed that “if you’d told me a few months ago” he’d be able to unlock at even this pace, then “I’d have struggled to believe you”. Righto. Was this the few months ago that you were saying it would be normal by Christmas? Or the few months ago when you were refusing to lockdown despite it being blindingly obvious that it was urgent and necessary and that your failure to do it was going to cost thousands of lives and condemn us to months longer under the restrictions we’re in now? Or the even fewer months ago when you were unlocking for Christmas? Or maybe one of the months in between? Or since?

Whichever it was, it’s slightly unfortunate that at the same time Downing Street’s training and makeover team are wheeling out this new, nerd-adjacent version of Johnson, the backstage machinations of his permanently dysfunctional court are spilling out in public. Disunity in his save-the-union unit has seen two resignations in the past fortnight, with one departed special adviser’s allies claiming it was on Carrie Symonds’ instructions that Johnson furiously accused him of briefing against Michael Gove. Meanwhile, Johnson appointed unelected Brexit negotiator David Frost a minister, apparently to stop him from walking too.

Well now. I don’t think we can pay the slightest attention to some unelected spads or unelected ministers criticising the prime minister’s partner for being unelected.

Much more diverting is all the drama concerning Dilyn the dog, who is reportedly being used by Islington blogger Dominic Cummings “to fight a proxy war against the PM’s fiancee”. I can’t believe that a) a nation run like this has the highest death toll in Europe and b) Dominic has time for briefings, having by now surely been snapped up by one of the big Silicon Valley companies.

And yet I read that Cummings reportedly holds a grudge against the Jack Russell cross, after it humped his leg at a No 10 away day. There is more – much more. The dog is said to have caused expensive damage to Chequers antiques, while according to the Mail “one visitor claims to have seen Dilyn ‘mount’ a stool made from the foot of an elephant shot by US president Teddy Roosevelt”. Take a moment – I know I did.

In the Downing Street garden, Dilyn is said to have cocked his leg on some spad’s handbag. “Dilyn is a much-put-upon animal who in a non-Covid world would have had his balls chopped off long ago,” a No 10 aide explained to the Sunday Times. “It’s not his fault that he is a bit exuberant.” Right. Are we still talking about the dog?

And that was when it hit me. Maybe we’re NOT still talking about the dog at all. In a very literal, very metaphorical sense – stay with this – is it possible that Boris Johnson’s old larrikin spirit has transferred itself into Dilyn the dog?

Let’s look at the evidence. We have a prime minister who suddenly appears vaguely housebroken. Meanwhile, we have a sexually incontinent dog who will fuck anything – even a trophy pouffe, or Dominic Cummings – and who is being extensively briefed against by factions unhappy with his performance. It’s surely the classic bodyswap comedy: “When he ingests a plot device, a struggling UK prime minister ends up in the body of his own resourceful and appealing rescue dog – and vice versa!”

Think about it. It’s literally (and metaphorically) the only explanation that makes sense. That wild thing you see in the photographs, dragging Johnson round his daily Buckingham Palace runs, is actually Johnson himself. It was Johnson who pissed on the lady’s handbag – huge Bullingdon Club energy, let’s face it – and it was Johnson who wrecked the Chequers furniture and had it off with an elephant foot. The creature behind the lectern who’s been trained to say “data not dates” for a chocolate drop is actually Dilyn.

Look, I don’t know the trailer line for a paranormal state of affairs that’s going to have to divert me till June. “Becoming a dog made him a man.” “Can you teach an old prime minister new tricks?” But I do know that these types of movie transformation are always the route to self-examination, radical self-discovery and significantly deeper empathy – which is certainly the other one-way journey the prime minister should be currently embarking upon.

  • Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist


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Marina Hyde

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