WHAT STARTED as a "bit of fun" to raise awareness for an animal charity has led to accusations of vote rigging in a political leadership contest – for cats.
South East Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray last week put forward her favourite feline, Bosun, to become the next Purr Minister.
It was part of a competition being run by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home (BDCH) for the top political cat, and Ms Murray was urging locals to vote for her Millbrook moggy.
However, whiskers were raised when Bosun attracted 30,000 votes in seven hours – more than 70 per cent of all votes cast.
Ms Murray's campaign was accused of vote rigging and using an internet algorithm to boost Bosun's chances of winning.
Labour's Andrew Gwynne withdrew his pet, Jude, in protest, telling The Mirror: "I think there has been vote rigging. It is not fair – it is against the spirit of it."
But Ms Murray said the situation had been "very upsetting" – and that Bosun had now been withdrawn from the campaign.
"I entered Bosun as a bit of fun to promote the good work of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. Bosun is a much-loved family pet who is now 14 years old.
"He was named by my late husband who was a fisherman – hence the name.
"One of my staff, out of working hours, set up a website, did some social media and even produced a few leaflets. I entered Bosun before the recent storms but unfortunately Labour has decided to make this political and I have decided to withdraw him as I have to concentrate on the many storm-affected areas in my constituency."
A further statement from his campaign added: "Following a weekend of half-truths and rumour it is with deep regret that Bosun has decided to withdraw from the competition.
"At no point did the campaign set up an 'automated algorithm' as alleged by others.
"Neither Sheryll Murray or her office know who did or how this was done.
"Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have already said that there have been a lot of voting irregularities with many candidates and we do not know if this instance was by a well-meaning supporter of Bosun's or someone who was trying to frame him.
"It was also alleged that Bosun claimed all these votes came from Australia. He, to his knowledge, got one vote from Australia from an ex-pat and a family member.
"It is a shame Labour has seemed to be determined to politicise this competition and you would have thought a Shadow Health Minister would have more important things to be concerned about unless he thinks the Government is doing a great job.
"I do not want to distract from the important work that Battersea Dogs and Cats Home does and I know Sheryll is keen to focus on her constituents who have been so badly affected by storms so have, therefore, decided to withdraw."
"I would like to wish the others cats the best of luck, in particular Monty Tomlinson and Parsnip."
The BDCH poll closes on Thursday.
The charity said: "We will look carefully at how people can vote next year."