Mark Large / AP
Larry, 10 Downing Street's new official rat catcher, looks out of a window in the Prime Minister's residence in London on Feb. 15.
Chris Hampson, NBC's Director of International News
LONDON – History is littered with the broken promises of those who reach high office. They pledge to change the world; to make things better; to crack down on the rats who would ruin our lives.
We've heard it all before from those who choose to prowl the corridors of power.
Now here, apparently, comes another one.
Step forward “Larry,” the latest appointment at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British prime minister.
Larry has only been there for a couple of weeks, but already he stands accused of being asleep at the wheel. Or, more correctly, catnapping on the job.
Not surprising really. Larry is a cat.
But not just any old cat. Not long ago he was from the wrong side of the tracks – a rescue cat. Rumor had it he had once run wild and was a bit of a bruiser. Ideal background for a life in politics.
Then his rags-to-riches moment. Spotted through the bars of his cage, he got a call from the prime minister's office.
Within days he was on his way to take up his new position as Chief Rat (and Mouse) Catcher at Number 10. Not those sharp-toothed political rodents we hear about, but real bubonic-plague-spreading furry things.
The not-so-little terrors were seen scuttling across the famous front doorstep by TV cameras originally intent on covering more important matters.
Where Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher crossed, there went the rats. So much for security.
Not since Defoe wrote his “Journal of the Plague Year” in 1722 have rats so interested journalists.
Barely had the 4-year-old tabby lapped up his first saucer of milk on the job, when a whiskering campaign began against him. He was, some said, simply not up to the job.
"He has shown no interest in the many mice in Downing Street,” said one of Larry's anonymous accusers (cattily) from inside Number Ten. And, unusually for that place: "There is a distinct lack of the killer instinct.”
The problem is that he spends too much of his time, well, sleeping.
Alastair Grant / AP
Larry, 10 Downing Street's new official rat catcher, arrives at the British prime minister's residence on the front seat of a vehicle on Feb. 15.
With the exception of politicians, the whole world knows that cats – at up to 16 hours of slumber a day – come second only to possums, bats and teenagers in the sleep department.
I mean, unless you're a politician in pursuit of the youth vote, you wouldn't ask a gangly, spotty 14-year-old boy what the dawn chorus sounds like, right?
So why get a cat at all?
Well, for a start there's a long and distinguished history of cats at Number 10.
The first dates back to Cardinal Wolsey's time 500 years ago. Churchill enjoyed the company of “Nelson”; Neville Chamberlain the “Munich Mouser”; Edward Heath “Wilberforce.”
In 1989 another stray wandered into Downing Street and took up residence with Margaret Thatcher. “Humphrey” – who became one of the most popular and admired cats in Great Britain – was by all accounts a formidable mouse-catcher. His reputation earned him the official title of “Mouser to the Cabinet Office,” and his $150 a year food bill was paid for out of the departmental budget.
That was said to appeal to Thatcher – a stringent monetarist – because he was much cheaper than the $6,000 charged by a pest controller who was said never to have caught a mouse.
But rats? That's an altogether different league.
No doubt Larry will, in true cat fashion, take it all lying down.
Meantime, if Downing Street really wants to get rid of the rats, may I, as a dog-lover, offer this advice?.
Get yourselves a Jack Russell terrier. When it comes to rodents, they're ruthless and efficient – and will feel right at home in politics.