The class anger behind the #piggate scandal

September 27, 2015

Whether or not it is true, the internet has decided that British Prime Minister David Cameron probably put his private parts into the mouth of a dead pig when he was at Oxford.

The allegations have been made by extremely well-connected Establishment figures, former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman Lord Michael Ashcroft and former Sunday Times political editor Isabel Oakeshott, and is published in the Daily Mail. This is the highest possible tier of character assassination in British politics.

Ashcroft’s goal is, according to the Mail, “revenge”. In the years leading up to Cameron taking office in 2010, the tax-dodging billionaire had donated more than £8 million to the Conservative Party, bailing them out of debt after their disastrous election defeat in 2005. He had worked as treasurer and deputy chair of the party, helping to manage them back to an electable public image under Cameron.

Ashcroft expected he would be given high office in exchange for this, but Cameron did not pay up when the time came. Ashcroft appears to have spent the past five years compiling his new book, Call Me Dave, in which the pig story and other damning allegations about the prime minister are made.

Outsiders to the British cultural landscape are focusing on the central detail that a leader of a G8 country screwed a dead pig, because it is hilarious. But the howling laughter of the British goes deeper than just schadenfreude at a man doing something disgusting and getting caught. This is about class.

When Cameron was at Oxford, he was a member of several secret societies of rich young men. The most famous of these is the Bullingdon Club.

The aim of the Bullingdon Club is ostensibly to dress up fancy with the chaps, get blind drunk at an expensive restaurant or private dining room, and trash the place — because they can afford to pay for the damages without doing a day’s work.

Among their known initiation rites, they are said to have to burn a £50 note in front of a homeless person.

And that leads to the other side of what such clubs are about: upper-class right-wing team-building. The friendships and alliances forged in the secret drinking societies of powerful rich kids go on to define their careers, and these young men all have access to the highest rungs of British society.

Three prominent members of Cameron’s cabinet were members. Many others went on to run banks that crashed the economy in 2008 and the media empires that protect them.

Burning money in front of a homeless person is not just a nasty prank, it serves to train a Bullingdon boy’s senses, to make other humans seem lesser.

That Cameron and his allies Chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson have all done this, and that they have all presided over a sharp spike in homelessness in Britain, is not coincidental.

The MP who provided Ashcroft with the pig story attended one meeting of the expensive club, but left in disgust because “it was all about despising poor people”.

Part of the reason why the British are so ready to believe Ashcroft’s story, aside from the fact that Ashcroft is a top-tier Establishment figure in a country with absurdly plaintiff-friendly libel laws, is that Cameron’s ideological training is already well understood by the public.

There is nothing likable about such a background, particularly when the ruling class it produces is waging a war on the poor and disabled that would have made Margaret Thatcher blush.

So to then hear that the guy at the top of that pyramid was peer-pressured into putting his dick in a pig’s mouth to be included in a club of nasty, entitled people creates a much more satisfying reaction than mere laughter.

A figure of terror becomes a figure of ridicule, a reversal like the boggarts in Harry Potter, who impersonate your worst nightmares until you can cast a spell on them that makes them look absurd.

The scandal that now has the world laughing at Cameron involved the Piers Gaverston club, a previously less well-known society with a reputation for bizarre sexual rituals and initiation rites.

Where the Bullingdon boys built their fraternity around shared values of hating the poor, the Piers Gaverston was about sexual humiliation and the creation of shared secrets. Its structural function is as an agreement of mutually assured destruction between the rulers of tomorrow — who know each others' secrets.

This forms one of the core mechanics of the British ruling class. Why reveal someone’s dirty secret when you can use it to control them?

This forms the basis of the parliamentary whipping system. The Chief Whip of each party is expected to have an arsenal of dirt locked away so if need be, the party leader can “whip” rebellious backbenchers with threats that include leaking a damaging story.

When it comes to the top of British politics, sound character and a clean record do not make you an asset. You will have a hard time joining unless they can confirm that you are scum — and can make sure that the public don’t know about it.

An interesting example is the role Thatcher played in elevating certain members of her government and its allies.

Recent allegations in the growing parliamentary child abuse scandal arose that Thatcher “turned a blind eye” to paedophiles that she promoted, including providing knighthoods to known serial child abusers Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith. Leon Brittan, the now-deceased home secretary in Thatcher's government, is being investigated.

In each case, Thatcher is now thought to have been warned by security services about these men, but is alleged to have ignored it. It is not out of the question that in knowing they were child abusers, Thatcher would have had political leverage over them. Promoting them would help strengthen her own power.

The horrifying parliamentary child abuse scandal has further undermined public trust in Westminster — already increasingly despised for being out-of-touch and unaccountable after financial crises and expenses scandals.

The public is already exhausted to the point of raw antipathy with the way Westminster power works. Our politicians might be screwing children, but the ones who could help us find out about it are making sure that story is blocked.

When that kind of behaviour is the norm, the British public cannot really be blamed for believing their PM put his knob in a pig to join a secret society.

Something grievously misunderstood by much of Britain's ruling class is that they believe hatred of the “Bullingdon boy” archetype comes from mere jealousy. Most of the privately educated men who run the country really think everyone wants to be more like them — and any criticism of elites comes from envy.

This is largely due to a core belief instilled into the 7% of pupils who attend Britain’s divisive independent schools, that of meritocracy. This despite the fact that not only can most people not afford to send their children to these fee-paying schools, the ones who do get an easy ladder up to high society.

They make up a third of MPs, nearly half of all newspaper columnists, a majority of Lords, diplomats and senior civil servants, and more than 70% of senior judges. It is common knowledge that the old boys’ network looks after its own.

This does not stop them from telling the public the system is fair. Eton graduate and former Bullingdon boy Boris Johnson said in a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies that the people with the highest IQ have the best jobs because they are smart.

Johnson then “failed” a live IQ test, yet persisted in the notion that kids who go to independent schools do well because they are brilliant. He has served variously as a cabinet minister, London mayor, newspaper columnist and magazine editor, enjoying each job with the support of powerful people with whom he went to school.

Osborne, also of Eton and the Bullingdon Club, was criticised by charities representing poor and disabled people, whose economic and household security was ruined by his reforms. He dismissed them as “anti-business” and gave tax breaks to millionaires — half of whom, incidentally, went to independent schools — in the name of “fairness”.

Cameron, another Eton old boy, also likes to talk about the supposed existence of meritocracy in Britain. He is one of the most vocal Conservatives when it comes to championing this ideology — telling poor people and ethnic minorities that their lack of social climbing is because they lack “aspiration”. He insists that “free” markets — that is, unregulated financial bonanzas for his associates — “can make you a better person”.

His government, however, has greatly increased inequality and decreased social mobility.

The wound of that hypocrisy was already festering before Ashcroft punished Cameron for breaking the rules of the ritual: obey the people who made you, or be humiliated.

This was not young men being silly. Not if the secrets being kept are designed by powerful men to keep other powerful men under control. That kind of arrangement is the antithesis of democracy.

Cameron’s nasty little scandal speaks to a suspicion many people already have: that in Britain, you do not get to become prime minister because you are talented or because you work hard. You do not even get there just because you are rich.

You get there by traumatising the homeless and skull-fucking a dead pig — and that ritual gives you power because you have demonstrated utter, pathetic submission to your fellow oligarchs.

That is why we’re laughing.

[Abridged from The Leveller.]

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