We are reliably informed that Larry, the cat, will remain in No. 10, Downing Street, as David Cameron and his family move back to their home in Oxfordshire, after their six-year stint in public housing. He (Larry) has proved a first-rate mouser, and is able to hold the media in thrall. The incoming prime minister, Theresa May, and her husband (some investment flak with Deutsche Bank or whatever in the City) will need Larry’s steady paw in his quasi-Cabinet position, as the Exterminator-General for small rodents; which, as one might expect, abound in proximity to power.

I never liked the fellow (Mr Cameron). Gentle reader might refer to the works of the Daily Mail pundit, Peter Hitchens, for my approximate view, on him and most other British politicians of the current “Blairite” generation.

Larry, who technically “belongs” to a civil servant in the Cabinet Office (cats are quite indifferent to whom they technically belong), holds what is, like so many others in Britain, an office that originated in the Middle Ages. The first Prime Mouser (as we might call him today) is lost in the mists of time; but it is known that, for instance, Cardinal Wolsey’s cat played a distinguished role in the background of the English Reformation, trying to distract her nominal “owner” from his work on the annulment papers for King Henry VIII. She was a fine papist cat, who unfortunately went down when the Prelate of York fell out of favour, and seems to have been dissolved with the monasteries. Somewhere in my files was a secret history of Cardinal Wolsey’s cat, Feronia, drafted decades ago in the manner of Procopius. Alas it, too, seems to be lost.

All cats are papists, incidentally, by old arrangements going back to Egypt. The ancient Romans shared the high Egyptian regard for these animals — the only species to which they accorded the liberty of their temples. It was a wise pagan custom which, as some others, was retained by the Holy See, down at least to the aptly-named Ratzinger, often photographed with pussycats. As to his successor, I don’t know what to say. The Spanish expression is, I believe, dar gato por liebre.

Tradition, which sometimes counts in England, recognizes the feline office at its most fundamental in the expression, “The cat can look at the Queen.” (Cats, I should mention, disapprove of corgis; or corgwyn, to be more correctly Welsh.) They were adjuncts usually to the Treasury, but later also to the War Office. Not even Feronia was a breed cat, as I understand. The tradition is tabbies, usually male, and by preference, strays. Larry, for instance, was obtained from the Battersea animal shelter.

It should be explained to North American readers, who are often under-informed, that the seat of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is No. 11, Downing Street — a house that communicates with No. 10. It has larger and better residential appointments, so that First Lords are in the habit of appropriating those quarters, leaving the Second Lords to make do with the more cramped facilities at the better address. Cats, of course, sleep wherever they want, and are no respecters of persons.

“Rufus of England” was the first media star in the twentieth-century line. He insinuated himself in the time of the Labour prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, about 1924. So called when in No. 10, he was better known in No. 11 as “Treasury Bill.” No mere mouser but an accomplished rat catcher, he formed the habit of leaving the corpses of his victims at Mr MacDonald’s feet; but on finding that the prime minister removed them to a trash bin, adjusted to delivering them there. With their usual fiscal recklessness, the Government granted Rufus an official subsistence, and an unnecessary title as Chief Mouser (which has republican overtones). Cats do not need titles, and never use them.

They (cats) are more usually associated with the Conservative ministries. An exception was “Nemo,” who arrived with Harold Wilson. A breed cat, in breach of tradition (a male sealpoint Siamese), he was greeted with contempt by the neighbourhood tabbies, who attacked him frequently.

“Wilberforce” was the longest-serving Downing Street cat-lord. By way of restoring custom, the next prime minister, Mr Heath, introduced him as a kitten from the Hounslow RSPCA. When grown, Wilberforce proved able to dominate large dogs, as well as prime ministers, three of whom he outlasted. Mrs Thatcher was in the habit of bringing him sardines, a tin of which she once obtained in Moscow during the period of detente, to the amazement of Politburo members, none of whom understood cats, and the need to keep them politically onside. But Mrs Thatcher understood cats very well.

“Humphrey” we associate with John Major. Both were underestimated. In fact he was appointed under Mrs Thatcher, who finally approved his annual budget of £100 as a wise expenditure, noting that the clowns who preceded her had been paying £4000 to a “pest control professional,” who had never caught one mouse.

A black-&-white stray of winning charm, natural dignity, and occasional pomp, Humphrey narrowly missed compression under the tire of Bill Clinton’s heavy, armour-plated Cadillac. (The visiting president was impeached shortly after.) He was also targeted in a smear campaign by the British press, who alleged that he was a serial killer of robins in the Downing Street garden. Mr Major rose gallantly to his defence in the House of Commons, and it was later proved that the Daily Telegraph had made up the whole thing. There was then a premature announcement of Humphrey’s death. He had only wandered, as he often did, a mile away, to the Royal Army Medical College in Millbank, where he was soon identified, and ceremoniously returned. Indeed, Humphrey enjoyed these little adventures, of which there were apparently several, for he considered his demesne to include St James’s Park.

But the real scandal of Humphrey’s tenure was in no way his fault. After eight years in office under the Conservatives, he was suddenly faced with the ailurophobia of Cherie Blair. (The term is from ailouros, the Greek for “cat.”) She may have been allergic, and I will guess she was, for there is a most unpleasant look on her face when holding Humphrey for the cameras. To this she was obliged, to dispel rumours that he had been quietly put down. As with Mrs Wilson before her, who once suffered septic shock after being scratched by Nemo, we had another unhappy cat/mistress relationship.

For the truth is that cats do not like Labour prime ministers, and cannot abide their wives.

Now that Mrs May has taken the office (of prime minister), we will see what Larry thinks of her. For the moment he is biding his time.