Cats have become political. No wannabe prime minister who would dare suggest they did not like cats, though Rishi Sunak has yet to declare. Budding politicians no longer kiss babies but they do stroke cats. Even Sir Ed Davey kneels subserviently in the presence of cats.

There are people who believe that cats should be locked up to preserve wildlife. Indeed, the majority of American cats are not allowed outdoors, a move encouraged by the American Bird Conservatory and others. The EU has dismissed restrictions on the right of felines to roam, though one German town has implemented a summer ban.

Wildlife is under pressure. Although the RSPB says there is no scientific evidence that cats are responsible for the decline bird populations in the UK, it is perhaps only a matter of time before politicians are lobbied to keep all cats indoors.

Readers of this article will quickly learn, or may well know, I am a cat lover. I was once owned by seven cats, though now I have only one master, Biggles the Cat. We are the best of friends but his nocturnal habits can be disturbing. A year ago, I was taking part in the What the Cat Dragged In survey run by Hannah Lockwood at the University of Derby. In just six months, Biggles the Cat brought in 95 beasts: 85 mice, six rabbits and two shrews, along with five birds, three blackbirds and two pigeons. At least 51 of these were alive when dragged through the cat flap. I caught and released just one bird and one mouse, and whether they lived there is no way of knowing.

The good news is that Biggles the Cat is slowing his rate of slaughter. He seems to be more interested in fighting other cats for territory and as I write this, he lies stretched out on the easy chair. He’s been thoroughly duffed up in a fight and it looks like he lost.

The hunting habits of cats may not seem a political matter but any future prime minister would be foolish to ignore Larry, the chief mouser at No. 10 Downing Street. He has a sharp tongue on his Twitter feed (cats get humans to write for them) and he has witnessed the removal vans for three prime ministers already. And according to one report, he has a similar mouse score rate to Biggles the Cat.

But there are more serious issues. Cats cause significant havoc to wildlife and in some locations, they have led to extinction and near extinction of species. This has created a lot of concern about the impact of cats on nature, with many surveys including those by Derby and Reading universities. Researchers have found cats contributed to the decline and extinction more than 400 species. A lot of this destruction is on islands, where cats and other predators have been eradicated to prevent the further decline and to allow reintroduction.

Walldorf in Germany is one of the last homes of the ground-nesting crested lark, down to just three breeding pairs locally. The town authorities ordered residents to lock their cats indoors for three summers or face a hefty fine.

This lockdown has not been without controversy. Writing in the Mirror, Polly Hudson called it a “shameful assault on basic feline rights”. She laid into American ecologist Peter P. Marra, who believes no cats should be allowed outside anywhere. Two-thirds of American cat owners keep their pets indoors. In the UK, almost the same proportion of cats are allowed to roam outdoors according to the latest PDSA paw report. A quarter of UK adults own a cat, more than 11 million felines in all. They catch up to 100 million prey items over spring and summer, of which 27 million are birds. These figures would horrify Peter P. Marra who has argued that all cats everywhere should be locked up. He is joined by Arie Trouwborst and Han Somsen from Tilburg University, who say the Nature Directives require EU member states to ensure that “letting cats roam free outdoors is forbidden and effectively prevented.” But the EU says it is “a strong defender of free movement rights – including of cats” and no ban is proposed. 

So far, there is little sign of the roaming of cats becoming a political issue in the UK. But where America goes, we too often follow.

The politics of our day are dominated by the leadership contest. Liz Truss has declared herself a cat lover. Rishi Sunak hasn’t said anything about cats that I can find. Perhaps cat roaming is something the candidates might address in their final statements in the leadership contest. It might at least make the contest a little more interesting.

Mind you, if Larry the Cat had been on the ballot paper, I reckon he would have been a clear winner and our next prime minister.

This article first appeared on Lib Dem Voice.

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