Pigs in blankets
Pork shenanigans today as Prime Minister David Cameron is accused in a tell-all book of putting his penis inside the decapitated head of a dead pig. (Never thought I’d write that sentence…)
The world has — rightly — judged this to be hilarious. But there are bigger issues wrapped tightly within this story’s sausagey membrane. The right wing pundits are quite wrong: this is a real news story. It goes to the heart of British culture and political life. It is a tale of the class system, public perception, and the exercise of power in the 21st century.
As a display of political revenge, #piggate is both deliciously old school and remarkably web savvy. It takes a smear decades old and plants it firmly in 2015. Such a grotesque image will kill Cameron’s career like a slow poison. Fighting scandal is easy; fighting global ridicule is not. Ashcroft knew that the worst thing he could do is sow the seeds of an image so funny and disturbing that it clings to the PM for the rest of his life. It’s brutal, it’s evil, it’s fascinating.
As a story, it goes right to the heart of Britain’s obsession with class. Unsettling, unethical and disgusting hazing rituals within semi-secret cliques made up of the country’s elite young men just feels so right. At no point today did anyone say ‘That just doesn't sound like something upper class boys at Oxford would do’ — and therein lies the grotesque beauty of the story. Whether Ashcroft’s claim is true or not isn't remotely relevant — it has simply to seem like it could be true. As Lyndon Johnson once said ‘I just want to see the son-of-a-bitch deny it.’ The majesty of the accusation is like a carpet bomb. You just fire and forget. The damage is done.
Perhaps more important than what it tells us about class are the ramifications for British democracy. When the dust settles on the bae of pigs fiasco, the PM will have a lot of questions to answer. In the first place, why did he feel it was appropriate to promise Lord Ashcroft a job in government as a thanks for his bankrolling of the Tory party?
It’s a badly kept secret in Westminster that Cameron had agreed to give Ashcroft a key role in the next Tory government in 2010. After all, it’s fair to say that Ashcroft was instrumental in Cameron’s rise to power and his money the basis for the Conservative party’s vital gains in key marginals. After the election, Cameron allegedly told Ashcroft that the deal was off, only to U-turn on that U-turn later and offer him a job after all — as a junior whip in the Foreign Office…
“After putting my neck on the line for nearly 10 years — both as party treasurer under William Hague and as deputy chairman — and after ploughing some £8m into the party, I regarded this as a declinable offer. It would have been better had Cameron offered me nothing at all.”
If promises of top jobs can be doled out in gratitude for £8m, how then is it not hypocritical to pursue the Labour party for its union money? And if, as Ashcroft also claims, Cameron was well aware of his non dom status well prior to the time the PM says he found out, what does that say about the man leading the country?
[Cameron was] “fully aware of my status as a so-called non dom. Indeed we had a conversation about how we could delay revealing my tax arrangements until after the election”
A billionaire tax evader torpedoing the head of government for not giving him a government job is problematic not just for Cameron but for all of us. For what price is the Conservative party willing to sell our democracy?
The Realpolitik question of course is: how is Labour going to capitalise on this? Jeremy Corbyn has sewn himself up when it comes to personal attacks, meaning we’re unlikely to hear thinly veiled pig comments at PMQs. But that still leaves Cameron exposed on these other questions. In many ways, this will prove to be a bigger test of Corbyn than of Cameron. If Labour can’t score serious hits on this, it’s in dire straits indeed.
Basically what it comes down to is this: either The Conservatives are going to lose the next election in part because the public believe David Cameron had sex with a dead pig’s head, or Labour are going to lose the next election DESPITE the public believing David Cameron had sex with a dead pig’s head. This country is insane.