A closer look at who, exactly, is alleging David Cameron did you know what to a you know what.
Did British prime minister David Cameron insert “a private part of his anatomy” into the mouth of a dead pig and thereby gain entry into the membership of the Piers Gaveston, a society of aristocratic would-be ne’er-do-wells established in the 1970s as an ultra-debauched version of Oxford’s better-known Bullingdon Club, whose only purpose is to achieve perfect decadence?
It is, needless to say, a provocative question, and one that has been understandably tittered over by media on both sides of the Atlantic since the allegations came to light this weekend. But perhaps the more important questions lie not in whether Cameron performed the act but rather in who surfaced the rumor, and what he stands to gain from it.
The claims are made by Lord Michael Ashcroft, the billionaire former British treasurer and deputy chairman of Cameron’s Conservative Party, a life peer ennobled in 2000 whose eclectic business dealings include a cleaning company, Lotus cars, ownership of the Belize Bank, and a stint as a developer in Turks and Caicos where his dealings with jailed premier Michael Misick are well documented
“He is nobody to cross,” current Belize prime minister Dean Barrow told British M.P.s in 2009.
But that is precisely what Cameron did—possibly on the advice of Barrow, who warned Cameron about offering Ashcroft a position in his first-term government. The offense? The prime minister only offered Ashcroft a position as “special representative for veterans’ transition,” a title he apparently considered beneath him. Word began to spread that he and co-author Isabel Oakeshott were preparing Cameron’s political “obituary,” Call Me Dave, currently being serialized in the Daily Mail.Ashcroft’s claim of Cameron’s porcine copulation came in Sunday’s installment.
When you really get down to it, the pig’s-head allegation is based on flimsy evidence—Ashcroft claims he’s talked to a member of Parliament who’s seen a photograph of the act. But even Ashcroft—who resigned his peerage earlier this year—says it could be a case of mistaken identity.
The current scandal allegedly traces back to Cameron’s school days at Oxford and his alleged connection to Piers Gaveston, a society established in 1977 by screenwriter and social gadabout Valentine Guinness and named after the 14th century alleged boyfriend of King Edward II. (King Edward died, it is said, after being anally impaled by a red-hot poker by a group of barons.) Every university has its secret clubs, some more notorious than others, but each comes with its own esoteric initiations, and some, like the Bush’s Skull and Bones at Yale, a key to future success. Gaveston’s rituals have reportedly followed a more bacchanal bent.
An anonymous writer informed London’s Evening Standard that the society’s parties have always been a post-exams, “drug-fueled, sexy riot.” The author recalled how guests—men in drag, women dressed as hookers—had their mobile phones, keys, and I.D.s removed. Members then reportedly blindfolded everyone and drove them to a field in the base of a valley, where there were three marquees. According to the Evening Standard, one signpost was simply labeled “Drugs.”
“There was everything there: heroin, crack, acid, with everyone just queuing up to have more,” recalled a guest to the author of the piece.
After obsessively focusing on the most tabloid aspects of Ashcroft’s revelations and the often exaggerated antics of Oxford secret-society members reportedly including Hugh Grant, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, London mayor Boris Johnson, and, naturally, Prime Minister Cameron, the real point has been missed. No one seems to be asking what Ashcroft’s slash-and-burn campaign has been designed to exact revenge for.
In an echo of U.S. campaign-finance shenanigans, Ashcroft, the U.K.’s own mini Koch brother, contributed $12 million to the party, funds whose destination he wanted to control.
“I much prefer to be involved, to make sure that my investment is wisely placed,” he once said.
The Conservative Party may have been blinded to Ashcroft’s murky tax status by his deep pockets. He was considered a “non-dom” by U.K. tax authorities and therefore could avoid paying taxes on foreign earnings—a hot issue in Britain. Yet Ashcroft sought political influence, and, despite his status as a tax exile, the Conservative Party accepted his money. Ashcroft was a major donor to, and eventual treasurer of, the party underWilliam Hague. In the book, according to the Daily Mail, Ashcroft claims Cameron was not only aware of his tax position but went so far as to specifically discuss how to keep that political bombshell out of the public eye.
Ashcroft, it appears, took his pig-head business straight from the political playbook of Lyndon Johnson, who once reportedly directed a campaign manager to put out a rumor his opponent was “a pig-f**cker.” Nobody would believe it, the manager protested, according to Hunter S. Thompson’s account in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. “I know,” Johnson replied. “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”
Cameron has yet to issue a denial, but the conservative-action groups are wary of pig associations.
Earlier this week, the Dewsbury County Conservative Association, in West Yorkshire, canceled and then reinstated a pig race fund-raising evening next month it billed as “an exciting and unpredictable evening.” Probably less exciting than a night with the Gaveston boys, and an event Cameron will doubtless avoid.
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