There’s a cat in the cab­i­net

For­get polls and party con­fer­ences, the an­tics of politi­cians’ pets are of­ten much more in­ter­est­ing, says Harry Wal­lop

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

THIS sum­mer, Down­ing Street’s re­moval men were work­ing flat out as a new gov­ern­ment took charge. But, for many, there was a far more wel­come res­i­dent mov­ing into White­hall: Glad­stone, chief mouser to the Trea­sury.

The hand­some black cat joined Larry, a tabby that lives at Num­ber 10, and Palmer­ston, the For­eign Of­fice cat. Soon, fur was fly­ing. In one par­tic­u­larly nasty in­ci­dent, Palmer­ston’s ear was torn and Larry lost his col­lar as they at­tacked each other on the steps of Num­ber 11.

‘The quick­est way to tar­nish a politi­cian’s ca­reer is to sug­gest they aren’t an an­i­mal lover

For­get the machi­na­tions of Brexit, what most peo­ple in Bri­tain re­ally cared about was who was top cat. The brawl­ing fe­lines were proof that the surest way for a dull gov­ern­ment depart­ment or a schem­ing politi­cian to win over the scep­ti­cal elec­torate is with a do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mal—not least in our dig­i­tal age, when few things are more pop­u­lar than a cute kit­ten on the in­ter­net.

Google ‘Larry the Cat’ and you get more than five mil­lion hits—eight times more than Am­ber Rudd, the new Home Sec­re­tary. Glad­stone is big on In­sta­gram (8,000 fol­low­ers and climb­ing); Palmer­ston not only has his own Twit­ter ac­count (@Di­plo­mog), but a par­ody one, too. Be­tween them, Palmer­ston’s ac­counts have nearly as many fol­low­ers as his boss, Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond.

‘There are not many other coun­tries that would get quite so ex­cited about a pet be­ing in the cen­tre of its gov­ern­ment,’ com­ments Christo­pher Day, who has writ­ten a book, The Chief Mouser: And Other Of­fi­cial Cats (His­tory Press Ltd). ‘The gov­ern­ment cats have taken the po­si­tion of soft­en­ing the news, sweet­en­ing the pill a lit­tle bit,’ he ex­plains.

Mr Day is a his­to­rian at The Na­tional Ar­chives and he points out that, although White­hall has never had so many pets as it does now, the tra­di­tion of gov­ern­ment cats goes back a long way.

The Ad­mi­ralty had a cat in 1902; in 1936, the Cab­i­net Of­fice had one called Jumbo and, dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, Win­ston Churchill kept Mar­malade and Mu­nich Mouser, in­her­ited from Neville Cham­ber­lain, and Ru­fus, a poo­dle.

Although HM Gov­ern­ment’s pet pref­er­ence is the cat, in Amer­ica, it’s the dog. Ever since Franklin D. Roo­sevelt’s dog Fala, a Scot­tie, be­came a celebrity, the White House has al­ways had a dog in res­i­dence— the Oba­mas chose Por­tuguese wa­ter dogs, Bo and Sunny, to over­come the prob­lem of their daugh­ter Malia’s al­lergy to dog hair.

Dur­ing Bill Clin­ton’s pres­i­dency, Buddy, a choco­late Labrador, was care­fully se­lected by the Pres­i­dent’s Fac­ing page: Above: ad­vi­sors—a black one was dis­missed as show­ing up poorly in pho­to­graphs, a yel­low one be­cause it might up­stage the scan­dal-hit pres­i­dent.

Po­lit­i­cal pets have al­ways been PR weapons. Soon after the Blairs en­tered Down­ing St, ru­mours cir­cu­lated that Cherie hated cats so much she’d booted out Larry’s pre­de­ces­sor Humphrey. Ques­tions were asked in the House. In fact, the moggy had poor kid­neys and had been re­tired to the coun­try­side, but a pho­to­call was soon ar­ranged, with Cherie and Humphrey look­ing as un­com­fort­able as each other. David Cameron, too, was forced to pro­duce a pic­ture of Larry sit­ting on his lap after it was sug­gested he couldn’t stand cats.

And was it a co­in­ci­dence that Ge­orge Os­borne’s pop­u­lar­ity im­proved after he pub­lished pictures of his fam­ily’s new ad­di­tion, Lola, a cream bi­chon frise? No, it was not.

The of­fi­cial Gov­ern­ment cats are pri­mar­ily there as mousers. White­hall’s old build­ings are no­to­ri­ously awash with ro­dents and Palmer­ston has al­ready racked up 20 con­firmed kills. They do be­come com­pan­ions, though, es­pe­cially for the civil ser­vants who

Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cab­i­net Of­fice, out­side 10 Down­ing Street.

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