Have a merry little Christmas Boris said. But it’s not just the celebrations he’s keeping diminutive. This year’s Downing St Christmas card sees Dilyn the Jack Russell terrier, beloved of Boris and Carrie, looking out – dolefully? wistfully? hopefully? – against the backdrop of the No. 10 door with tinsel around his neck.
Little dog, little Christmas. Except, like everything this year, the perspective is distorted: the door of No. 10 appears outsized while the tinsel scarf seems to dwarf its wearer whose owners are nowhere to be seen.
When it comes to a choice of subject for their Christmas card, Boris and Carrie have not been left short. They could have chosen a family portrait, a la Tony Blair, of them with Wilfred, now seven months old. But maybe this was considered too risky for an unmarried couple or simply too personal. They could equally have chosen a portrait of Wilfred and Dilyn together, rolling under the vast Chequers Christmas tree. But perhaps this would have been considered negligent from a “safeguarding” perspective. So, Dilyn it is. Politicians know the emotional capital of babies and the pull of the family portrait. David Cameron and Ed Miliband both worked it with their newborn babies, asking us to suspend animosity just for a second, just because it’s Christmas.
The canine Christmas card though, is another matter. Shorn of humans, the portrait of the dog is straight-up symbolism, the dog standing in as an avatar of its owners, faithful, loyal, straightforward. In a torrid year for Boris both personally and politically, he is able to offer the public Dilyn as evidence not only of his humanity but also of his very Brexit Britishness. Because what could be more British than using your dog as a means of avoiding intimacy? I do it all the time, using my dog as a means of steering the conversation away from politics and Covid.
Boris, however, knows all too well the scrutiny his new relationship, his baby, and his politics fall under. Far safer and more politic to deflect our attention therefore onto Dilyn the rescue dog with a misaligned jaw, the Unionist dog not from England but from Wales who holidays in Scotland, whose “mother” cares about animal welfare above all.
It’s not all goodwill though. The Daily Mail screams out “Where’s Wilfred?” enraged no doubt on behalf of “mums” up and down the country. Twitter asks where Larry, the No. 10 cat has gone, sidelined and forgotten like, say, grown up children. Some say Dilyn has the same haircut as his master. And yet, as adorable as Dilyn is, the real issue is visibility. We can’t see Boris or Carrie or Wilfred, just like we can’t see Covid, or indeed each other. The picture of Dilyn is a sign, not dissimilar to all the other signs we have been bombarded with since March except this one has no caption. A sign that tells us to keep our distance, to not ask too many questions, maybe even a directive to keep canine rather than human company.
For those that had the misfortune to receive Ed Miliband’s Christmas card of yesteryear with him eating a bacon sandwich sitting on a Harley Davidson on the front of it, the canine Christmas card is surely an infinitely preferable – and far more displayable – form of messaging. Let’s leave the subtext to the dogs in future, they seem to be rather good at it.