Josephine Forster: Theresa May has offered us all a moment of paws

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The Independent Online

Cats, it appears, are a 21st century moral indicator. Put a cat into a bin and you're a monster. Steal the kitten of the "other woman", and the world understands that you are a political wife on the edge. Google "pictures" and the first results are ungrammatically captioned "lolcats", truly the lowest comic denominator. To facilitate the religious education of the Facebook generation, The Bible is now conveniently available in lolcat translation, complete with audio. So what was Theresa May thinking when she ridiculed using a man's attachment to his cat as an argument for letting him stay in the UK?

Clearly, this exemplary citizen should be welcomed with open arms and perhaps given a camera, in case his cat is proficient at jumping into boxes or a fan of comic aphorisms. He has proper views towards cats.

Whatever Ms May thinks about his human rights, she should certainly have acknowledged the essential rectitude of his cat ownership.

Of course, the cat-test is (arguably) not a valid criterion for character assessment. So Christine and John Hemming would have us believe. All is well, they claim, in the private and public life of a man whose infidelity drove his wife to catnapping.

This strange indifference has also penetrated the ranks of immigration judges and the farthest reaches of the European Court of Human Rights.

Cats, we learn, are not a factor in immigration status and may themselves have no human rights at all.

You have to wonder just how far these people can get from the sentiments of the great cat-loving public. But May's use of this particular cat infringes on more than our understandably protective attitude to felines everywhere. It reflects a failure to scrutinise; an addiction to convenient soundbites.

May believes the state should have greater control over immigration. Apparently the rest of her speech, largely unreported in the aftermath of "cat-gate", contained many pertinent examples supporting this policy. But so what?

Nestled among the party faithful, May fell back on a souped-up populist tidbit, apparently with the sole intention of poking fun at a system administered by her own department. She certainly made a mockery of her political message. Credit to those who refuted May's blundering tale of habeas cor-puss. Its unabashed sensationalism would, one feels, be looked at askance even by the lolcats.

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