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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
No 10 gets new feline first lady
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Sybil, Downing Street's new cat
Sybil the cat exploring Downing Street
The last occupant of 10 Downing Street became an embarrassing irritant after a decade and was finally put out to grass to spend his remaining years in obscurity.

Now there is a new, Scottish, face at the head of the Cabinet table who is loved by everyone and who has the run of the place.

It must be one of the most privileged, and soon-to-be best known cats in British public life.

Sybil - as in Basil and Sybil Fawlty - the black and white moggie is much loved in the home of the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling.

And that home is now the flat above the heart of Britain's government - 10 Downing Street - where the Darlings, including Sybil, have moved to from north of the border.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's official spokesman confirmed a new cat was in residence, adding: "The prime minister and Sarah do not have a problem with it. I am sure the cat will appear at some point."

And sure enough, Sybil came under immediate pressure from the media's picture desks to stage a photocall in her full, feline finery.

Asked if the moggie was being given free rein in the building, the spokesman pointed out that cats were not the easiest of animals to deny access to.

Insurance policy

However, Sybil is unlikely to face the same fate as her predecessor, Humphrey, who had stalked the corridors of power for years after wandering in during Margaret Thatcher's reign in 1989.

He was perfectly at home snoozing on the prime minister's chair at the Cabinet table and chasing mice, when he could work up the enthusiasm, but was moved out six months after Labour's 1997 general election win.

Humphrey was put out to grass almost a decade ago

There were all sorts of dark rumours about Cherie Blair's role in the move and she was forced to deny her dislike for the animal was to blame.

Official questions were asked in the House of Commons about Humphrey's absence and health after his departure.

The media were later invited to a South London property, where a healthy Humphrey was photographed, hostage-style, with copies of the day's newspapers.

Finally, almost a decade later, Humphrey - named after the Whitehall mandarin Sir Humphrey from the TV series "Yes, Prime Minister" - passed peacefully away at the home of a Cabinet Office worker who had taken him in.

Now Sybil has proved to be a very clever cat indeed by immediately staging the much-demanded photo call.

After all, now she has made the papers and brought choruses of "aahs" around the nation, no occupant of No 10 would want anything to happen which might alienate the cat vote.

Sybil the cat moves into No 10

Downing Street cat Humphrey dies
20 Mar 06 |  UK Politics
Purr-fect ending fur Humphrey!
25 Nov 97 |  Politics

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