The story of Raisa, the retired police horse, is surely asking to be made first into a schmaltzy children's book, then a stage play, and finally a blockbuster by Steven Spielberg. By my reckoning, when Raisa first joined the Met, she would have been carrying mounted bobbies into the thick of the poll-tax riots that laid low the hegemony of Margaret Thatcher. She might well have gone on to see the mass protests on the streets against Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq, and she would no doubt have had her own views about the hunting ban, which provoked almost equally populous demonstrations. What did she make of them all? "If a lion could speak, we would not understand him," wrote the great Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations. But this is a deep metaphysical truth that authors have been ignoring with great effect ever since Black Beauty and The Jungle Book.
The human world seen through the eyes of an animal is a theme which is almost comic in itself. We (some of the time) remember that "we are but beasts", as the Bible tells us, and at other times we get above ourselves and feel little lower than the angels. The dog, the cat, the pig and the horse, presumably never have the intimation of angelic status, and are happy, or otherwise, with their doggy, catty, piggy, or equine status. When they gaze up at us, half aware of our idiocies, and half puzzled, the comedy of things is never far from the surface, whether we think of Lord Emsworth scratching the back of his prize sow, the Empress of Blandings, or whether we think of Lord Emsworth's creator himself, the masterly P G Wodehouse, in thrall to his Pekingese.
When the animal's keeper is a figure of great power, the strangeness of the relationship becomes even more fascinating for those of a fanciful disposition. We know a lot about what Hitler thought of his doggy friends, but rather less about what they thought of him. His first little pet was Fuchsl, or Little Fox, a white terrier who had run away from the English trenches on the Western Front. (A great film opportunity there.) Fuchsl and Hitler took to one another, and although the future leader liked to claim he had passed a heroic war, his bayonet was only ever used on rats caught by his four-footed friend. Later, dogs of the Führer were gifts, including poor Blondi, whom Eva Braun hated so much she used to kick her under the table. It was upon Blondi that Braun and Hitler, finally married, tested their cyanide capsules.
Raisa too, we believe, is now dead, buried, I hope, with full News International honours, rather than being made into pots of glue and tins of pet food. She was entrusted on a long loan, or so we understand, to Rebekah Brooks in 2008. In all the murky tale of what News International journalists have done for the police, and what the police have done for the hacks, perhaps no favour seems more bizarre than this. After all, Rebekah was married to Charlie Brooks, old chum of the Prime Minister, and a trainer with lots of gee-gees at his disposal, a figure out of Dick Francis. Surely Raisa was coals to Newcastle?
One imagines that the point of Raisa was that, like the Gorbachev regime to which her name makes poignant allusion, she was a thing of the distant Thatcherite past. It was because she was past it that she was handed over to Rebekah, who is, we must assume, a less advanced equestrian than her husband. Or maybe the horse was thought to be sufficiently dozy and gentle for a child to ride upon. Either way, in the late afternoon of her days, Raisa left the world of rent-a-mob demos, and the gentle clip-clop through the early morning streets of Mayfair, for life among the Chipping Norton set.
The immediate question that bothered the political pundits was – did Raisa ever meet our Prime Minister? At first, there were denials from Downing Street. It was as if the poor animal was "that woman", Monica Lewinsky, with whom a president did not, famously, have sexual relations. David Cameron did not know "that horse". Later, however, it emerged, not merely that he probably did know "that horse", but that he had ridden Raisa.
In Agatha Christie's Dumb Witness, the central figure is a dog who sees the murder. More territory here for the Wittgensteinians who might believe that, even if it could talk, the "dumb witness" would not be able to assist Poirot with his inquiries.
The more fanciful among us old Fleet Street hacks, however, would have given our eye teeth for an exclusive interview with Raisa, especially since Cameron now admits that he "probably rode" her. Raisa presumably knew more than we do about why Mr Cameron chose to meet top executives of News International 26 times in 15 months. The rest of us, though, are still puzzled about why Cameron, an apparently decent individual, whatever you think of his politics, chose to fish for a press secretary in the Murdoch swamps, and how he could have come up with the editor of – of all papers – the "News of the Screws". Whatever Andy Coulson knew about phone-hacking or criminal behaviour by his journalists, had David Cameron never held a copy of the News of the World and asked what sewers had been plumbed? Face it – a horse would never have come up with a rag like that.
Raisa might have had some fascinating things to tell us about Coulson's predecessor, the great flame-headed editor, and the smooth-faced, smooth-talking politician, as they trotted along the over-manicured Chipping Norton lanes. But the longer we meditate upon Raisa's story, the more we should be reminded of Gulliver's Travels and its terrible and misanthropic conclusions.
Gulliver, having discovered on his travels the incorruptible Houyhnhnms, who have no concept of untruth, discovers upon his return to England that he cannot tolerate human society. He spends all his time in the stables. "My Horses understand me tolerably well; I converse with them at least four Hours every Day. They are strangers to Bridle or Saddle; they live in great Amity with me, and Friendship to each other."
Gulliver had observed, when he visited the Houyhnhnms in their own territory, the greatest contrast between these noble creatures and the Yahoos, brutal human animals who are dirty in their ways, quarrelsome, sexually lewd, greedy.... In fact, it is very difficult to read the fourth part of Jonathan Swift's great satire – "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms" – without instantly thinking of 21st-century England. For what are the fat cat bankers stuffing their off-shore accounts with bonuses, or the spewing lager louts of our inner cities, or the looters of last summer's riots, or the sex-obsessed prurient lickspittles who worked on the News of the World, or the MPs fiddling their expenses, but Yahoos?
When Gulliver is introduced to a female Yahoo by his kindly Houyhnhnm host, he "could not reflect without some Amazement, and much Sorrow, that the Rudiments of Lewdness, Coquetry, Censure and Scandal" should be as clearly evident in her as in the male Yahoos.
Perish the thought that such misanthropic reflections ever crossed the mind of Raisa when she patiently felt the weight of Rebekah Brooks on her back. Being like a Houyhnhnm, Raisa would have been too noble, or too innocent, to have had the reflections which might have occurred to the more censorious members of the human race, as they heard Rebekah, up in the saddle, on the phone to Rupert and James. Nor would Raisa – unlike harsher human commentators – have thought any the worse of a smooth-shaven Tory leader for trotting along the lane with such pals. Gulliver might have had less difficulty swallowing the Dirty Digger and the bent coppers than he would those politicians who brim at election time with a sense of their own worthiness.
Gulliver found the sight of "a Politician, a Whoremonger, a Traitor" just about bearable, because they made no pretence to be other than Yahoos. It was those human beings who were "smitten with Pride" and who pretended to be virtuous which made him want to "keep my Nose well stopt with Rue, Lavender or Tobacco-Leaves". We must remember to keep these herbs in plentiful supply at the next election, as we watch Cameron and his friends forgetting their rural rides in the Cotswolds.