This is our truth, tell us yours
As Jem pointed out earlier David Cameron could be said to be having a bad day.
It could have been worse.
As Jem pointed out there is a great deal more to this story than just an account of a man doing something unthinkable that makes lots of people cringe. It has none of the comic elements of Portnoy’s transgressions with the liver, for instance, and no sense that, if it’s true, Cameron was doing it for any reason other than the approval of others.
The reactions of the newspapers and commentators who were both friendly to the prime minister and thoughtful is instructive.
Not for them the stupidity of the dual edged response offered by the likes of Louise Mensch, who ran with the combination of ‘I don’t believe it and even if he did, who cares?’ Instead, from the BBC and the Guardian, there was a period of dignified silence followed by a well scripted re-framing of the story as being about Lord Ashcroft, not David Cameron. By tea time Radio 5 could barely even bring itself to name Cameron,instead focussing on Lord Ashcroft and his apparent ire at not being made a government minister. In the process the inconvenient woman in this story, the respected journalist Isabelle Oakeshott was written out of the story, so that the dominant narrative became that this was a story about the spurning of a donor.
It’s a clever re-framing of the debate, that puts the character of Ashcroft on trial, not Cameron. It also elides the whole legal process that went on before publication. Soap opera replaces process, and the story becomes as good as it can be for the PM’s spin doctors.
The other thing that has been introduced is complexity. It’s no longer a black and white story about the vulgarity of a man who thinks it appropriate to simulate sex with a dead animal, if that’s what happened. It’s become a story about power, money and ambition, and anyone who doesn’t think the Conservative Party is riddled and riven by those things may have missed the point completely.
A short point needs to be made here. The lack of a credible denial, and the lack of a libel suit, doesn’t make the accusation against Cameron automatically true. The story of LBJ wanting to accuse an enemy of being a pig fucker, just to see him deny it, has been much repeated today. For David Cameron, a libel case or a complicated denial is a minefield far worse than a few jokes about him hamming it up or pork barrel politics. The whole issue of #snoutsinthecrotch is not as corrosive as #snouthsinthetrough but a prolonged and politicized inquisition about what he did or didn’t do at university would be the death of David Cameron’s reputation, not because of what he did or didn’t do, but because of the equivocations and evasions that would appear or be perceived as he went through a prolonged trial process.
Jem nailed down the hypocrisy at the heart of the establishment laid bare by this story, and by similar stories about George Osborne retailed by Natalie Rowe. Louise Mensch’s response is the authentic voice of conservatism; denial and dismissal, as if the war on drugs is only fought on council estates and inner city streets, not amongst the dreaming spires.
For me though the story is about the control of the narrative, and the unwillingness of the press to pursue a story by original research if the subject of the story is a member of the establishment. Even as the establishment battle each other, the press is reduced to standing on the sidelines providing a commentary. Others will know the truth, but we, the public,are not allowed to share it, and lack a champion to seek out the truth for us.