LONDON // Prime minister David Cameron and his Downing Street staff were having to face up to the harsh reality yesterday that Larry the cat might not be up to scratch.
Larry was brought in to No 10 last month to sort out a rodent problem bedevilling the rsidence of the prime minister' of the UK.
The problem had come to the nation's attention in January when a rat could be seen in the background, scooting along the railings of No 10, as a BBC political reporter held forth in the foreground on the great issues of the day.
But, since being re-homed from a south London sanctuary for stray cats, Larry has appeared more interested in catnapping than in rat catching.
Indeed, while mice and rats have escaped unscathed, the only things he appears intent on doing serious damage to are members of Mr Cameron's staff, several of whom have suffered unpleasant pangs when he has sunk his claws into their calf muscles, according to the Independent on Sunday newspaper.
"He has shown no interest in the many mice in Downing Street," one recent visitor told the newspaper. "There is a distinct lack of killer instinct."
The four-year-old tabby should hang his head in shame as previous Downing Street cats have, like their political masters, shown a real instinct for going for the jugular.
Most famous of them all was Humphrey, a stray who wandered in to Downing Street during Margaret Thatcher's term in 1989 and stayed until six months after Tony Blair had been elected in 1997.
Humphrey was forced into early retirement, just as many other civil servants are being forced at the moment, apparently because Cherie Blair did not care for him.
When Mr Cameron became prime minister in May, he turned down his children's pleadings for some feline company. As recently as last month, after the rodent problem had come to the nation's attention, a Downing Street spokesman insisted that there were "no plans" to get a new cat.
But U-turns are nothing new in politics and, on this occasion, the Camerons' young children prevailed. Three weeks ago, Larry arrived. "There was a group of people within Downing Street who thought getting a cat was a good idea. They have won," said the spokesman resignedly.
A spokesman for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, where Larry came from, said on Sunday that, as it was recommended that re-homed cats were not allowed outside for eight weeks, Larry had probably not had the opportunity to get to grips with the rodent problem yet.
He has, however, tried to get out. Last week, a Downing Street staffer was seen making a grab for the animal as it made a dash for freedom as Mr Cameron greeted actor Kevin Spacey at the Downing Street front door.