No new cat to fight Downing Street rat

24th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

There's a new menace stalking the heart of power in Britain: a rat has been spotted on the steps of 10 Downing Street, the most famous front door in the land.

But the government said Monday there were no plans to bring in a new Downing Street cat to sort out the rodent menace enjoying free rein outside Prime Minister David Cameron's office.

Downing Street cats have a proud history, with some joining the state payroll and enjoying the honorary title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.

The rat was spotted in two television news bulletins, scurrying around outside the famous black door, triggering a flurry of emails, texts and tweets to broadcasters.

But the prime minister's official spokesman said Monday there were "no plans" to bring in a cat to deal with the rodent threat.

Perhaps, as the government slashes public spending, there's no money left to fund trays of cat litter and tins of rabbit chunks in jelly.

There has been no Downing Street cat since Sybil, who moved in with finance minister Alistair Darling in 2007 but returned to Edinburgh after six months, having failed to settle in central London.

Sybil was the first cat to live in the street since the legendary Humphrey, a stray who took up residence under prime minister Margaret Thatcher and outstayed John Major.

Tony Blair sent Humphrey into retirement in 1997 amid persistent speculation that his wife Cherie forced him out.

Humphrey was on the payroll, receiving 100 pounds (160 dollars, 117 euros) a year from the Cabinet Office budget.

A 120-page file on him released after being covered by the Official Secrets Act revealed: "He is a workaholic who spends nearly all his time at the office, has no criminal record, does not socialise a great deal or go to many parties and has not been involved in any sex or drug scandals that we know of."

© 2011 AFP

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