If politics is a game of cat and mouse, the mice are winning. The Houses of Parliament’s longstanding infestation of rodents is getting worse.
“Wherever I go, I see mice,” Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons deputy speaker, said. “I was walking down the corridor the other day and this mouse was walking down with a little bit of a swagger, and off it went.”
The pest problem has worsened recently, most notably during the Easter recess when most Brexit-weary politicians, staff and journalists moved out, allowing the mice to move in. The rodents now have the run of the place, walking all over carpets, desks and even the feet of unsuspecting victims.
The crumbling, gothic Palace of Westminster makes it a difficult problem to solve but Sir Lindsay has a plan. In his first major interview after nine years in the job, he tells The Times Red Box podcast that it is time to send in the predators.
“I’m still of the opinion it is time we got some parliamentary cats,” the Labour MP for Chorley said.
“If they’re good enough for Downing Street, they’re good enough for us. I think we should have a few cats running around.
“It’s a good calming influence for people as well, and it will do no harm.”
The parliamentary authorities do not agree, insisting that the Palace of Westminster “would not be a safe or suitable environment to place an adopted cat”, with too many visitors and too much building work.
Such opposition might be overturned if Sir Lindsay, who has been deputy for nine years, became the Speaker: the straight-talking Lancastrian is the bookies’ favourite to replace John Bercow.
Officially he will say only that he will consider standing when there is a vacancy, but lays out a pitch to the exclusive electorate (MPs) that he is on their side. He raises concerns about the level of abuse and intimidation, fears that some could be frightened into changing their votes, while others might quit the Commons.
When it comes to the bigger question of the long-running renovation saga, Sir Lindsay, 61, believes that leaving the dilapidated Palace of Westminster might be the only answer .
“What I’m concerned about is big chunks of masonry dropping off different parts of the building. You don’t know where it’s going to drop off next.”
He says that the only way to do the work quickly and cheaply is not to move to a costly makeshift chamber across the road but into a new, purpose-built building.
“If you go around the world, you go to Australia, wherever, these new parliamentary buildings are fantastic state-of-the-art buildings, family-friendly, accessible to people with disabilities, it makes a real difference.
“You can put real security in there, and that will be a way to test, to see what people think.
“So I think give MPs real choices and let them make them rather than steer them into a choice that may be a bad one.”