Cats have played a major role in British politics. Since the 1920s, various felines have served as mousers at 10 Downing Street, the official residence of British prime ministers since 1735 in London. The most famous of them all is Larry, a tabby cat who’s witnessed some of Britain’s most significant political moments of the 21st century.
Since 2011, the cat has served under five prime ministers: David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and Rishi Sunak. The 16-year-old is also the first cat to be bestowed with the official title of “Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.” Over the years, stories of Larry’s exploits at Downing Street have become part of pop culture.
The now-famous political cat was adopted from a shelter
Born in January 2007, Larry was a stray cat who used to live in London’s Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, one of the United Kingdom’s most famous animal shelters. Four years later, he was adopted by Downing Street staff as a pet for the then Prime Minister David Cameron.
Larry soon became a public figure, and his popularity led to a 15% surge in people adopting cats in 2012, according to his former shelter, as reported by LADbible.
As the Chief Mouser, his main job is to ensure the building remains rat-free. As per GOV.UK, the cat “spends his days greeting guests to the house, inspecting security defences and testing antique furniture for napping quality.” His other major responsibility is to find a solution to Number 10’s perennial mouse problem, which is still “in tactical planning stage.”
Cat’s relationship with Prime Minister David Cameron and interactions with other politicians
Larry’s relationship with Cameron has often been the subject of media interest. There were rumors the politician did not get along with the feline. However, in his final speech as prime minister, Cameron confirmed he liked the cat, as per The Guardian. Cameron said, “Sadly, I cannot take Larry with me – he belongs to the house and the staff love him very much, as do I.”
Over the years, Larry has met with several prominent world leaders and politicians. According to the BBC, he took an instant liking to the former President of the United States, Barack Obama. “Funnily enough he liked Obama,” Cameron said. “Obama gave him a stroke and he was all right with Obama.”
During Theresa May’s tenure in 2019, Larry famously photobombed a picture featuring May, her husband, Philip May, and then U.S. President Donald Trump. In a hilarious incident, the cat took shelter from the rain under Trump’s car, refusing to come out for a while, as per HuffPost.
Larry’s encounters with other famous pets
Larry has fought with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Labrador Retriever, Nova, on several occasions. In an interview with Sky News, Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, said her dog has “mixed emotions” about living in Number 10 since the canine doesn’t get along with Larry. “They’ve had some heated exchanges and Larry’s come out on top.”
Continuing, she shared, “So she might have some mixed opinions on living here. But, you know, our family is so grateful to be here.”
Larry did not get on with Boris Johnson’s dog either. During a recent interview with Daily Mail, the former prime minister described the cat as “a bit of a thug.” He said his pet Dilyn, a Jack Russell Terrier cross, once tried to eat Larry’s food while the cat was out and got “mauled.”
Larry’s biggest nemesis is Palmerston, a black-and-white cat who served as the Chief Mouser of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). In particular, the two shared a tense relationship that often led to fights.
Things came to a head when Palmerston once sneaked into Number 10, following which a brutal fight ensued. According to Huffpost, Palmerston suffered an ear injury while Larry lost his collar in the encounter. Four years later, Palmerston retired from his job as a mouser and moved to the countryside.
Downing Street cat’s impact on British politics
Over the years, Larry has had a significant impact on Britain’s politics. In an interview with Politico, photojournalist Steve Back said politicians have often “exploited” the famous feline. According to Back, the cat plays a pivotal role in increasing the politicians’ appeal to the public.
“You know, there are pictures of the prime minister with the cat near him or something like that,” he shared. “I’m thinking if Rishi was to walk out the front door when things weren’t looking too good and suddenly pick up Larry and go, ‘Hi, guys’ it would change the whole face of things.”
Back further described the cat as “a powerful product” and “a PR asset to anyone in Downing Street.”