Rishi Sunak letting go of his dog leads to police alert and scandal


LONDON – Who walked the dog? Apparently it was British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and this has led to a very British scandal, known by some as “dog gate”.

It started innocently enough. Over the weekend, a video appeared on TikTok showing the British leader strolling through one of London’s most popular parks with his family and his red fox Labrador named Nova. But, as the video pointed out, something was wrong with the picturesque scene. Sunak and Nova were in an area where park rules strictly state that dogs must be on a leash to protect the nearby swans and ducks, and Nova was free to roam.

In many other countries this is probably seen as a minor incident, nothing to get tongues wagging. But this is Britain, where people can take rule-breaking very seriously, especially when rules are broken by those in power. It means that the police were involved and it has become a hot topic in the media and among politicians.

“We are aware of a video showing a dog being let loose in Hyde Park,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement to the British press. β€œAn officer who was present at the time spoke to a woman and reminded her of the rules. The dog was leashed again.” The incident seemed to offend many British sensibilities, with one Briton complaining social media that it is “one rule for us, another rule for them”.

Leading the country after years of political turbulence has been no easy feat for Sunak. His government has been under pressure on several fronts this year, including a controversial proposed asylum policy, historic strikes by inflation-stricken British workers and ethics inquiries into members of his party.

Yet it is often the incidents of individual, and perhaps more identifiable, cases of rule-breaking that have caught the nation’s attention. On Wednesday, social media users hinted at previous times Sunak has been in trouble, including in January when he was fined by police after a video showed him driving a vehicle without wearing his seatbelt, and last years, when he was fined for attending parties at 10 Downing Street, breaching coronavirus restrictions.

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The UK’s attitude to breaking rules, especially those seen as part of a social contract, can be harsh. Jumping forward in a line is considered a disgrace by many. Similarly, research into social attitudes suggests that only 31 per cent of Britons disagree with the statement, “‘The law should always be obeyed, even if a particular law is wrong.’ And opinions can be particularly harsh on politicians who break rules. The same 2021 survey found that 67 percent agreed that there was “one law for the rich and one for the poor.”

Downing Street said it would not comment on the latest footage, Sky News reported, as a Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters: “I am not going to comment on the filming of the Prime Minister’s family and privates. You can see the video, it speaks for itself.” But critics of Sunak and more generally of the Conservative Party have used the incident to portray the prime minister as elitist and aloof.

On a British radio station, an editor of the Daily Mirror, a left-wing tabloid, told the presenter on Wednesday that Sunak “just doesn’t seem to know about rules, regulations and laws around him”. “Lock down parties, seatbelts and now dog leashes!” legislator David Lambie from the opposition Labor party tweeted on Tuesday. “Why does @Rishi Sunak believe that our laws never apply to him?

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On TikTok, hundreds of people left comments criticizing Sunak for not playing by the rules. “Rules for you, not me,” one wrote. “Forget he has to lead by example…again,” wrote another. Meanwhile, said a bewildered Briton local radio that the incident was a good metaphor for how Sunak could struggle to keep members of his own party, including his colorful predecessor, in line.

“If Rishi Sunak can’t keep his own dog on a leash, how is he going to keep the big dog Boris Johnson on a leash?” asked the caller, leaving the presenter with a chuckle. Sunak has declared himself a dog lover in the past, saying that while it wasn’t his idea to get a dog, Nova is the “best thing that’s happened to our family in a long time.”

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