Distinct British Institutions

Glen Newey

As we know from William Hague’s career-trouncing baseball cap boo-boo, a Conservative leader has to be very careful what he puts on his head. Lord Ashcroft’s allegation, serialised in the Daily Mail and denied by the Tory party, that as part of David Cameron’s initiation into the Piers Gaveston Society, the future prime minister got it on with a dead pig, testifies maybe to a youthful lack of judgment, or perhaps simply to a dearth of sexual partners in Oxford in the 1980s. Whatever the reason, and regardless of the facts of the matter, the vision rears up of Dave tuxed and red-cheeked, breeches at half-mast and a bristly ear in each fist, pounding the snout with his symphysis.

You can’t really see Mrs Thatcher doing it. Still, as penile rituals and fratpack high jinks go, it seems rather tame beside the global repertoire of infibulation and skinning, phallocentric rites aimed at performatively marking the ruling caste’s entitlement. Nowadays, cadet Bullingdonians only have to burn £50 notes in front of beggars to prove their prowess. Byron whiled away the longueurs of life at Trinity College, Cambridge by keeping a live bear, who according to an anti-Byronic squib by a fellow student, Hewson Clarke, may have met a broad swathe of escort needs (‘What’s felt by a Lord, may be felt by a Bear!’). Juxtaposition with his Tory opposite number certainly shows what a weirdo the new Labour leader is.

Ashcroft’s shagiography is his lemonsucking riposte to being offered a paltry junior whip’s job in the Foreign Office after, in his words, ‘ploughing some £8 million into the party’. As usual, the immovable object of the Mail’s blue-head prudery has met the unstoppable force of its prurient greed. It brands the Gaveston’s membership ‘Poseurs, homosexuals, pretend homosexuals, exquisites, degenerates’ – but, in case readers get the wrong idea – ‘And also actor Hugh Grant, Rory Stewart MP, banker Nat Rothschild, Tom Parker Bowles’. The Daily Telegraph, the burning bush through which Conservative Central Office speaks, quotes Cameron’s ‘university ex’ Catharine Snow: 'He was just completely straight – the straightest at Oxford.’

Opinions will differ on whether the necrophiliac angle of piggate aggravates or mitigates the bestial one. And that’s as it should be: as the PM himself said in July, ‘we must now all come together’ to admit that we’ve failed ‘to enforce our values, for fear of causing offence’. Universities have a key role to play in this, as ‘too often’ their ‘leaders look the other way’ when faced with morally aberrant student society antics. Britain’s a place ‘where different people, from different backgrounds, who follow different religions and different customs’ do not just ‘rub alongside each other’ but ‘support the British way of life’, ‘shared values’ and ‘distinct British institutions’, like those puckish hog-fuckers in the Gaveston.

It’s all very primal, in an eight-year-old boy way. In The Lord of the Flies, an impaled pig’s head is the Beelzebub of the book’s title. Ralph knocks it off its stand and it breaks in half. No source suggests that Dave mustered comparable force in his alleged tryst with the Gaveston porker; but doubtless he would have given it his best shot, to jeers from his co-nobs – but then acceptance, too. The great thing about ‘values’ is that they’re whatever you want them to be.


  • 22 September 2015 at 9:41pm
    streetsj says:
    Does it matter that it isn't true? Rather like Mellor and his Chelsea kit.

    • 23 September 2015 at 11:49am
      mototom says: @ streetsj
      It may not be true, but it's true.

  • 24 September 2015 at 8:40am
    tony lynch says: