In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Ashes

(Edited: Creativity103)

(Edited: Creativity103)

It was British politics and social media at its most trivial and putrid.

Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft, assisted by political journalist Isabel Oakeshott, has released a biography of the Prime Minister David Cameron, serialised in the Daily Mail. One of the allegations in Call Me Dave is that, during an initiation for the University of Oxford’s Piers Gaveston Society, Mr Cameron once placed his penis into the mouth of a dead pig, while the pig’s head sat in another student’s lap.

This allegation sparked ‘Piggate’ on social media [1], with people noticing some similarities between the supposed events and the plot of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

“Very careful”

Ms Oakeshott said on BBC’s Newsnight [2]:

Well, we’ve been very careful in the way we’ve worded our account, this is not myself and Lord Ashcroft making the allegations. We’ve been very clear about how they came about. They came to us from a distinguished MP who was a contemporary of Cameron at Oxford. What we’ve said is that this was the account which we were given and we initially dismissed it as a joke, however the source repeated it on a number of occasions so we’ve left people to decide for themselves whether it’s true.

This is Ms Oakeshott stating, plainly, that the book does not assert that the allegation is true.

(Video: stephen lecock)

In their Daily Mail article [3], Lord Ashcroft and Ms Oakeshott point to a potential photograph of the incident:

The source — himself an MP — first made the allegation out of the blue at a business dinner in June 2014. Lowering his voice, he claimed to have seen photographic evidence of this disgusting ritual.

My co-author Isabel Oakeshott and I initially assumed this was a joke. It was therefore a surprise when, some weeks later, the MP repeated the allegation.

Some months later, he repeated it a third time, providing a little more detail. The pig’s head, he claimed, had been resting on the lap of a Piers Gaveston society member while Cameron performed the act.

The MP also gave us the dimensions of the alleged photograph, and 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.

“Ridiculous story”

Speaking to Toby Young, a founder of the Piers Gaveston Society, Valentine Guinness [4], said:

It is a ridiculous story. As far as I know David Cameron was never a member of the Piers Gaveston Society, so there would have been no need for an initiation ceremony. He may well have attended one of their parties, but the pig’s head story is purely malicious gossip.

To summarise, the source in Call Me Dave for this allegation is a single anonymous person, uncorroborated, based on a potentially mistaken identity in a photograph that has not been reproduced. Mr Cameron’s membership of this society is also unverified.

On This Morning [5], Ms Oakeshott defended the inclusion of this allegation:

There is so much serious material in the book that we thought it would be good to have some colourful, entertaining stories.

The problem is that, without proof or any form of supporting evidence, it is just a story. It is the role of a journalist to determine what is fact and what is not. An uncorroborated, anonymous, second-hand rumour neither sits atop the evidence pyramid nor should be regarded as fact.

Cavernous cacoons

Beyond the cavernous cacoons of social media, this rumour has little relevance. The polling company YouGov found [6], when asked about the Prime Minister’s “debauched behaviour” at university, 62% of respondents said “it was years ago and couldn’t matter less”.

ashes-yougov-polling-overall-debauched-behaviour

It has been an unedifying spectacle. Those who normally despise multimillionaire Conservative donors, distrust the Daily Mail and complain about irrelevant factors distracting from actual political debate have suddenly, magically, become completely in favour of such things. Those who have repeated and spread this salacious rumour have exchanged substance for gossip, principle for partisanship and thoughtful integrity for intellectual bankruptcy. These people often ponder what kind of imbecile would automatically believe whatever they read in the Daily Mail. It turns outs you are what you hate.

Reference

[1] Fisher, M., 2015. 9 questions about David Cameron’s #Piggate you were too embarrassed to ask. Vox. Available from: http://www.vox.com/2015/9/21/9365507/piggate-david-cameron-piers-galverston [Accessed: 22nd September 2015]

[2] Spectator, 2015. Anthony Sneddon takes takes Isabel Oakeshott to task over #Piggate. Available from: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/steerpike/2015/09/anthony-seldon-takes-isabel-oakeshott-to-task-over-piggate/ [Accessed: 22nd September 2015]

[3] Ashcroft, M., and Oakeshott, I., 2015. British Prime Minister and an obscene act with a dead pig’s head. Daily Mail. Available from: http://www.donotlink.com/framed?781055 [Accessed: 22nd September 2015]

[4] Young, T., 2015. Is that really the best Lord Ashcroft could dig up? Spectator. Available from: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/09/is-that-really-the-best-lord-ashcroft-could-dig-up/ [Accessed: 22nd September 2015]

[5] Agius, N., 2015. Pig-gate author gets telling off after defending her decision to humiliate David Cameron on Good Morning Britain. Daily Mirror. Available from: http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/pig-gate-author-gets-telling-6490530 [Accessed: 22nd September 2015]

[6] YouGov, 2015. David Cameron results. Available from: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/09/21/david-cameron-result/ [Accessed: 22nd September 2015]

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One comment on “Ashes

  1. Andy Blatchford
    September 22, 2015

    Is it true or not? Tbh no idea… Students do weird things but that’s hardly news.

    I think what you might be missing is that it is truly funny. Even the left (and as you know I am one) by & large hasn’t called for Cameron to resign over it. Conservatives trying to defend it just made it even funnier. A tweet I saw said “someone brought a nuclear weapon to a pencil fight” and a pencil fight is what twitter really is.

    Of far more interest is why Ashcroft bought it up. Tory right knives out?.

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