Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

It's time to put a cat among our politicians

Is it just me - or do cats appear to feature with alarming regularity in matters political these days? Downing Street of course, has had a feline in situ for some time now (no, not Dave).

Larry the cat was drafted in for mousing duty after disturbing footage from a standard 'outside Number 10' news report clearly showed a rat yomping across the prime ministerial doorstep.

By acquiring Larry, Dave was able to hit two birds - or rather rodents - with one stone.

It played up his green credentials. (No nasty rat poison with the new, fluffy Tories.)

And it showed up Labour who under Blair had pensioned off the then official mouser, Hum-phrey, (Cherie was rumoured to dislike cats).

These days, however, Larry is not the only cat among the politicians.

First there was that weird story about the Lib Dem MP whose estranged wife was accused of snatching a kitten belonging to his mistress.

Then in more recent days we've had full-blown Catgate featuring the Tory party conference fall-out between Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. Mrs May had regaled conference with the tale of an illegal immigrant who, she said, could not be deported because he had a pet cat.

Mr Clarke (her party colleague, let us not forget) retorted that he believed her claims to be childish and would be surprised if such a case indeed existed.

With the fur already flying, Lib Dem Chris Huhne then got in on the act by pointing out to a journalist similarities between Mrs May's cat claims and a previous speech by Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader.

Mr Huhne had not intended to publicly identify himself as the source of this comparison but accidentally let the cat out of the bag with an open Tweet to the reporter asking not to be linked to the story.

He has since apologised to Mrs May (his Coalition colleague). All the same, Mr Huhne - miaow!

I'm not suggesting this sort of in-house cat fighting is something we should covet for our own Assembly. God knows over the years we have had our fill of politicians here bickering for the sake of bickering.

But sometimes you do yearn for a flicker of individual temper up on the Hill where these days they seem to all be parroting an agreed coalitional line and nobody appears to ever - ever - want to rock the boat.

You can see how the May/ Clarke catfight may be deemed unseemly in the eyes of party bosses but equally you can appreciate how a political system benefits from dissent, dissection, nit-picking, argument or just plain old Victor Meldrewesque "I don't believe it!"

Up at Stormont Jim Allister currently fulfils the role of OMO (One Man Opposition.)

But recently even he was temporarily excluded, like a gobby third former, because he had the temerity to make sarcastic comments to the House.

Whatever you think of Allister's politics, on the plus side he appears to question just about everything and everyone. It's hardly ideal.

Without a proper, functioning and yes, questioning opposition, how much confidence can we have in the Stormont cartel?

What passes for a Stormont opposition these days comes down to the media rooting round like a Downing Street mouser after any scent of a rat.

At a time when major, major decisions are being taken that will affect our lives and the lives of our children - hospital accident and emergency units being closed down, schools facing the axe, to name but two contentious issues - any chance that this unhealthy lack of official opposition might be rectified?

Short answer ...

Not a cat's chance in hell.

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