Where do you start with this one?
Let’s assume you don’t use Twitter and/or have been isolated from all contact with the UK over the last few days.
A man called Michael (Lord) Ashcroft, erstwhile funder of the Conservative party and friend of prime minister David Cameron, has been disappointed in some way by both the party and the PM. Presumably well aware of the old saw that revenge is a dish best served cold, he has spent some time with journalist Isobel Oakeshott writing a memoir about Cameron entitled Call me Dave.
I haven’t, and wouldn’t, read it but parts are being published in the Daily Mail and have caused some controversy, best explained by the relevant extract in the Mail. Those of a delicate disposition should turn away now.
A distinguished Oxford contemporary claims Cameron once took part in an outrageous initiation ceremony at a Piers Gaveston event, involving a dead pig … that the future PM inserted a private part of his anatomy into the animal’s mouth … The source — himself an MP — first made the allegation out of the blue at a business dinner … he claimed to have seen photographic evidence of this disgusting ritual … [He] … provided the name of the individual who he claims has it in his keeping … The owner, however, has failed to respond to our approaches. Perhaps it is a case of mistaken identity. Yet it is an elaborate story for an otherwise credible figure to invent. Furthermore, there are a number of accounts of pigs’ heads at debauched parties in Cameron’s day. The late Count Gottfried von Bismarck, an Oxford contemporary of Cameron’s, reportedly threw dinner parties featuring the heads of pigs.
No doubt the authors’ lawyers have run their eyes over this text more than once and you will note the key words – ‘claims [twice] … allegation … claimed … perhaps … a case of mistaken identity.’ But of course alongside these get-out-of-jail-free cards we also have ‘it is an elaborate story for an otherwise credible figure to invent’ and ‘accounts’ and ‘reported’ dinner parties that may have involved a pig’s head but where no link, probably wisely, is made to David Cameron.
The appearance of this material led almost instantly to a twitter storm, hence my use of the hashtag #piggate in the title to this post. Much hilarity was had by many if not all although of course the hashtag is no longer trending, replaced by other equally urgent but ephemeral dross. When I raised a peripheral detail on Twitter I received a response that said
Dave has demeaned himself.
My correspondent (with ‘#SNP56’ in her profile) turned out to have one characteristic in common with Nicola Sturgeon. The first minister was interviewed by Jon Snow on Channel 4 News. The exchange went like this:
JS: Politics have got very nasty of late. They’ve been some awful things thrown at the new labour leadership. And also today, sort of, lewd allegations linking Cameron with pigs and the rest of it. I mean what do you, and it is turning very nasty…
NS: Well I don’t think I’m in any position to comment on the revelations in the book (laughs) about David Cameron. I think, you know, if I can make him feel better, he’s entertained the whole country on a dreary Monday morning so there’s got to be something in that.
The first minister struggles to get the word ‘book’ out in her Jon Snow interview
The thing she and my Twitter correspondent shared, along with many other participants in the game, is that they accepted the truth of what was, at best, an unproven allegation. The claims in the book are neither a ‘revelation’ (‘a surprising and previously unknown fact’ – dictionary) nor did the prime minister ‘entertain’ the country.
Of course, being a politician and immediately after this and her accompanying chuckle, she managed
… put aside all the lewd and salacious allegations that I have no knowledge of the truth or otherwise of them … [and she goes on to raise a point about when he knew of Ashcroft’s non-dom status].
So even if others didn’t, she just about stepped back from appearing to accept what is unproven rumour as fact.
In my own Twitter flurry around this subject, two people said other things. The first was from my interlocutor who said David Cameron demeaned himself. She also asked me, and I quote, ‘Right wing privileged nob your ideal? Are you one of his friends?’ I can confirm my answers are no and no.
And, almost finally, the wisest words directed at me came from a professional journalist with Labour connections. The whole farrago, she said, is
as proven as Freddie Starr eating a hamster and David Mellor in football kit sex tryst.
And that is just about it. Except, since I’ve made the connection to Nicola Sturgeon, this is yet another occasion on which I wish she had used different words, indeed taken a more sober tone. To reiterate what I’ve said on those previous occasions, it wouldn’t mean I was converted overnight to nationalism, but I’d certainly have respected her more. As it is, her tone gives licence to the people on Twitter (some sporting SNP twibbons or slogans) who really got stuck into the subject in an unpleasant way. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen Jeremy Corbyn or Tim Farron joining in the ‘fun.’