Anyone who uses Twitter and is vaguely on the left will no doubt have spent much of last night and this morning revelling in #PigGate – the reaction to the accusation made by Lord Ashcroft’s book and splashed on the front of the Daily Mail that during an initiation ritual for a drinking club in his college days David Cameron ‘put a private part of his anatomy’ into a dead pig’s mouth. To say that Twitter went wild would be an understatement, maybe some would see it as more evidence of “mob rule”, but for others it showed Twitter at its best, demonstrating just how inventive and downright funny it can be when users collectively sieze on a theme, run with it and share the results (there are some good examples here).
Mind you, not everyone found it so funny – certain right wing commentators took to Twitter to tut-tut and wag their fingers in disapproval.
Of course to an extent they’re right. We are being entirely partisan and having fun at our opponents’ expense. That’s what most people do when they get the chance, in fact if we’re honest this kind of partisan sniping isn’t really a drawback of Twitter, it’s (at least partly) what it’s for, and that’s why I’m not as outraged as some that the MSM hasn’t given the subject so much prominence. But that doesn’t mean we are wrong to have our fun.
And the first and most obvious defence is that it is funny, really laugh out loud funny. It would be funny if it was any other prominent politician, but given Cameron’s position and the fact that it rather chimes with stereotypes of posh boys and their drinking clubs with outrageous rituals it is funnier than it might be in other cases. And it is hard to imagine this particular story coming out about many Labour politicians (and impossible in Jeremy Corbyn’s case), so saying “would you do this if it was a Labour politician” somewhat misses the point. The timing couldn’t be better either – it happened on the day that the UK signed a £45m deal to export pig semen to China, and the fact that tonight Cameron is meeting the Danish PM makes it even more delicious (the story that is, not the pig semen).
Also, to make a somewhat partisan but not entirely unjustified point, for those of us on the left there is an almighty element of schadenfreude here – given the extent of spurious “shock horror” stories about Labour politicians in the Tory press in previous months (or years), I think it’s entirely understandable that we might derive some satisfaction from Cameron being on the receiving end. That’s what makes it so risible to see people on the right arguing “well I guess you accept that it’s open season now” – it already is open season for stories about Labour politicians, it always has been. And this isn’t some “left wing” smear story, it was put out by a Tory newspaper, with a prominent Tory supporter as their source. This doesn’t make it any more likely to be true, it may still be fair to call it a “smear story”, but I think it does give those of us on the left some licence to have fun with it. If it was a story in, say, the Mirror, based on a left wing source then I think it would be advisable to be a bit more circumspect.
What’s more, I haven’t seen anyone suggest that #PigGate actually proves Cameron is somehow unfit for office, nor do I think that once this temporary discomfort subsides it will actually be damaging to his career. Let’s face it, many of us already thought he was unfit for office anyway, for much better reasons. If some of the “come on, lots of people did silly things at university” excuses somewhat underplay the novelty of this particular accusation I still can’t bring myself to be especially outraged by it, or indeed by accusations that he was member of a dope smoking club. It’s just funny.
And if the tut-tutters want to concentrate on “serious” stuff well they could examine the allegation in the same story that Cameron lied about when he was aware of Lord Ashcroft’s tax status. Or consider what it says about our democracy when a billionaire can give a large donation to a political party in the expectation of a government job, and then when he doesn’t get it is able to get our most influential newspaper to print allegations against the Prime Minister on its front page. In fact we should all not let these questions get lost in amongst the #PigGate jokes.
Because yes, in the overall scheme of things whether or not Cameron may have fucked a dead pig’s head while at college, or whether people should be having fun at his expense about it are just trivia. This thing will die down soon enough and then we’ll go back to arguing about the real scandals – the people being forced into poverty by benefit cuts and the other pernicious effects of austerity, the decimation of the legal aid system and people being forced to plead guilty even if they’re not in order to avoid court fees, the government’s completely inadequate response to the refugee crisis etc. etc. These are the real issues – the indicators of the wickedness and nihilism of this government, and the reason I’m not going to feel much shame in having a pop at Cameron over #PigGate, however unfair. So for now, to Dan Hodges and the other disapproving voices on the right I’ll say yes, we’ll continue to have our fun and milk this thing for all it’s worth because…well because “fuck you”.