3:06pm

Mon March 5, 2012
Europe

Neighs Have It: Horse Tale Ensnares British Leader

In Britain, there's a long waiting list of British animal lovers hoping to take in aging police horses. Once retired, the horses aren't supposed to be ridden again.

Unless, it seems, you're Rebekah Brooks, the former tabloid editor and chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's News International, or David Cameron, the man who would become Britain's prime minister.

The ongoing inquiry into the relationship between the police and news media has uncovered a new scandal: Scotland Yard appears to have loaned Brooks a police horse back in 2008.

Brooks, the former Murdoch executive at the heart of the phone hacking and bribery scandal roiling Britain, didn't just jump the queue — she also rode the horse, called Raisa, before returning the steed, which has since died, two years later.

And, last week, at an emergency European Union summit in Brussels, Cameron was forced to end days of speculation and qualified denials to admit that he, too, had ridden Raisa — before becoming prime minister, and in the company of Charlie Brooks, a fellow Old Etonian and Rebekah Brooks' husband.

"I am very sorry to hear that Raisa is no longer with us," Cameron said. "And I think should probably conclude that I don't think I'll be getting back into the saddle anytime soon."

Britain's political satirists haven't had this much fun since someone leaked untrue allegations that another Conservative prime minister, John Major, tucked his shirt into his underpants.

"It is quite rarely that something so juicy falls into your lap like this," political cartoonist Steve Bell said to the BBC.

Bell drew a cartoon depicting Rupert Murdoch riding Cameron horsey-style and holding Brooks' severed head on his lap.

But most damaging to Cameron's image isn't the Murdoch connection, Bell says. It's the reminder that the prime minister, who likes to paint himself as a regular guy, is actually from Britain's landed elite.

"He knows ... this ... upper class, 'posh bloke on a horse' is bad news for him," Bell says.

Sheila Gunn, Major's former press secretary, says this is a perfect story for Britain.

"There's two things that seem to obsess the British, even now — and that is class and animals," Gunn says.

Her advice to Conservative Party operatives: Impose radio silence, do everything possible to starve the story of oxygen.

British satirists say that's not likely.

They say the scandal — dubbed "Horsegate" — could run longer than John Major's underpants did.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

If you thought the British scandal involving newspapers and phone hacking couldn't get any more absurd, think again. The latest chapter involves a former news executive, the prime minister, and a horse. It seems Scotland Yard loaned the horse to Rebekah Brooks. She's Rupert Murdoch's now-ousted protege. And she runs, or shall we say trots, in the same circles as Prime Minister David Cameron.

Vicki Barker picks up the story from there.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: There's a long waiting list of British animal lovers hoping to take in aging police horses. Once retired, the horses aren't supposed to be ridden again.

Former Murdoch executive Rebekah Brooks didn't just jump the queue, she also rode the horse, called Raisa, before returning the steed, which has since died, two years later.

And, last week, at the emergency E.U. summit in Brussels, David Cameron was forced to end days of speculation and qualified denials to admit that he, too, had ridden Raisa before becoming prime minister, and in the company of Brooks' husband, a fellow old Eatonian.

DAVID CAMERON: I am very sorry to hear that Raisa is no longer with us. And I think I should probably conclude by saying I don't think I'll be getting back into the saddle anytime soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Her name is Rebekah.

CHORUS: Rebekah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) And she rode the fastest police horse in the West.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARKER: Britain's political satirists haven't had this much fun since someone leaked untrue allegations that another conservative prime minister, John Major, tucked his shirt into his underpants.

STEVE BELL: Well, it is quite rarely that something so juicy falls into your lap like this.

BARKER: That's political cartoonist Steve Bell, talking to the BBC. Bell drew Rupert Murdoch riding Cameron horsey-style holding Brooks' severed head on his lap. But most damaging to Cameron's image, Bell says, isn't the Murdoch connection. It's the reminder that Cameron, who likes to paint himself as a regular guy, is actually from Britain's landed elite.

BELL: He knows how bad this sort of - the upper class-posh-bloke-on-a-horse is bad news for him.

BARKER: Sheila Gunn was john major's press secretary. Gunn calls this a perfect storm for the public psyche.

SHEILA GUNN: I mean, there's two things that seem to obsess the British even now, and that's class and animals.

BARKER: Her advice to conservative party operatives: impose radio silence. Do everything possible to starve this story of oxygen. Not likely, say British satirists.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) There was talk of murder, cover-ups, and obstructing justice's course. But all the papers talked about was Rebekah's borrowed horse.

BARKER: And they say this could run longer even than John Major's underpants.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.