Lord Ashcroft’s allegations that David Cameron inserted his penis into a dead pig’s mouth as part of a hazing ritual for a hyper elitist Oxford toff club came as no surprise to me. Ashcroft’s motivations are certainly questionable (he was denied a top position in the Tory government after their 2010 election victory), but the bizarreness and context surrounding it makes the scandal not only plausible, but likely.
Let me explain why.
I was raised in the British private schooling system (although private schools are known as ‘public schools’), and grew up around a significant number of people who looked and sounded like David Cameron. More than that, the school itself was run by people who looked and sounded like David Cameron. They were Oxford educated elites running a business that catered to wealthy parents who wanted to send their children to places like Oxford.
To say that the environment was competitive would be a gross understatement – it was oppressively competitive, bordering on abusive. I was hit by teachers at my school, publicly humiliated on numerous occasions for poor academic performance, and punished on a weekly basis for minor regulation infractions, like having my shirt untucked or not bringing a pencil to school. It was a dark, repressive place where bullying was rife, human care was non existent, and the relentless pursuit of academic excellence was valued over all else. I lost many friends who could not handle the rigor of British private schooling and were kicked out due to ‘poor performance’ or ‘unruly behavior.’ We were not viewed as children, but potential academic stars to raise the profile of the school and bump us up the pecking order in the highly competitive public school ranking. At 16 I realized I didn’t want anything to do with this and moved from my boarding school to a tiny French-American school in Los Angeles where my parents were instead – a welcome break from an environment that felt more like a Victorian prison than anything else.
It took me many years to understand why elite schooling in Britain is so traumatic, so tribal and so bizarre. After a considerable amount of space and reflection, I have come to the following conclusion. The public school system serves a very important function in British society, and exists in large part to socialize the next generation of elites.
The effects of public school on a child are equally fascinating and horrifying. In my single sex boys school, tribal groups would form as ways of surviving the intense pressure. There was a lot of fighting and psychological bullying amongst us, but little outright defiance directed at the school itself. I was part of a loosely affiliated group of teenagers who would question authority and refuse to participate in the systems of control put in place to keep us passive. And we were punished for this over and over and over again until we either broke or were asked to leave.
The school devised an ingenious system where boys were divided into separate ‘Houses’ where they would pledge allegiance to it and represent the House in sporting activities. They also maintained rigorous academic streaming system where boys were put into classes according to academic performance. There would be end of year exams, and your average result would determine whether you were put into the top, middle or bottom stream. The constant shuffling and intense academic pressure served to continuously separate friendship groups and keep us focused on competing with each other. The effects of these highly stressful divide and conquer tactics were immediate and dramatic. From the age of 11 onwards, students would routinely tell on one another, refuse to help each other and obsess over academic results. Cliques formed to either defend themselves from bullying, or to reinforce the ruthless competitive culture either intellectually or physically. Bullying, hazing and aggression were largely tolerated, but dissent against the school was not.
Those who adopted these ghastly social norms the best were limitlessly rewarded by teachers who would shower them with praise, mark up their work and help them get into the best universities in the country. The level of corruption I witnessed at school still blows my mind. I had numerous friends who were given better grades than they deserved and had phone calls placed in universities like Oxford and Cambridge to guarantee them a place. I know this because I saw it happen first hand.
The students who went to Oxford from places like my school largely came preconditioned to succeed in the academic and social hierarchy. They understood the social norms having been bred to believe they were part of the elite, and could mingle easily with other prepped elites from around the country.
Places like Oxford and Cambridge breed politicians, bankers and Prime Ministers – invariably white men from extraordinary privilege who have been molded from birth to rule over everyone else. Peculiar clothing, accent and aristocratic breeding are necessary to succeed at the top end of the social hierarchy, and bizarre, fetishized clubs within an already the already elitist system serve to put the finishing touches to the David Camerons and George Osbornes of the British power structure. Cameron was part of the notorious ‘Bullingdon Club’, where burning a £50 note in front of a homeless person was part of the hazing process required to get in. Elitism and breeding isn’t always sufficient to be accepted by Britain’s ruling class. One must present adequate disdain for the poor to be truly welcomed by the country’s nobility.
I didn’t go to Oxford myself (academic performance wasn’t high on my priority list as a teenager), but I have many friends who did. On the condition of anonymity, I spoke to a friend of mine who mixed with people in the same social clubs as David Cameron while at Oxford. I asked him about his knowledge of the Bullingdon Club and whether he thought there was any truth to the pig abusing allegations. Here’s what he had to say:
I had an extremely privileged education and went to a fairly average public school and then Oxford. When attending the latter I had direct contact with some of the then members of the Bullingdon Club. They were, across the board, from highly privileged, monied backgrounds and were generally arrogant at a level that almost beggars belief.
Due to my public school background, I have been told that I am ‘confident’ or ‘a tad arrogant’ (depending on which of my friend’s you talk to). However those in the likes of the Bullingdon Club are on an entirely different level. Incidences of destroying restaurants have been well documented in the media. One particular chap I personally knew in the Bullingdon Club spent over £3,000 in his first 8 week term on booze alone and his initiation to the club involved downing three bottle of champagne. Such behaviour smacks further of arrogance, but in a fiscal form. Money is unimportant to the members of such clubs. It has to be, otherwise you are simply not asked to be a member.
Aside from this, the club acts as any closed group does: to bind its members together. It’s hilarious in such circles to chortle about how Tarquin Snodgrass-Flarty slapped a waiter before kicking a homeless person because you (a) know that no-one else in the club will ever spill the beans on you because you have equally sordid stories about them and (b) because such behaviour does not really seem that sordid to you. “We’re the Bullingdon Club!”, “Do you know who my father is?!”, may sound like ridiculous statements but wielded by the likes of Cameron and his ilk, they are an instrument to remind us that we are less important than them. Their behaviour should not be judged by the same yard-stick to which the rest of us are made to adhere. In the face of such disregard for money, other people and even personal dignity I find it entirely plausible that #piggate happened. Were the actual photograph to surface, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest.
Based on my experiences mixing with Britain’s elites, I would also bet a considerable amount of money that #piggate occurred. Rugby friends of mine have told me tales of the school team sticking beer bottles up each other’s backsides for fun, masturbating each other and engaging in other acts of extreme homoerotic depravity while on tour (of course none of it gay…). Sticking one’s penis in a dead pig’s mouth for a dare would be fairly mild compared with some of the other tales I’ve heard.
The British public are enjoying this scandal precisely because it strikes a heart at this type of repulsive elitism. David Cameron’s vicious war on poor people can rightly be viewed as an extension of his ideological training in Oxford. Cameron was so desperate to be accepted by the country’s elite that he would dehumanize a homeless person and put his cock in a dead pig’s mouth to prove it. Unfortunately for him, the grotesque rituals designed to breed extreme camaraderie also came at a high cost. Writes Rob Fahey in Foreign Policy:
The ritualized, sexually grotesque nature of Cameron’s initiation sets it apart somewhat, of course; but what’s also different about this kind of ritual in elite circles is the calculation behind it, the power and control it affords, and the self-perpetuating network of influence it creates. Consider this scenario: At elite institutions, those earmarked — by wealth, title, connections — for future leadership roles are forced, as impressionable young people, to carry out humiliating acts in order to gain acceptance by an in-group. That same in-group will, over the course of their lives, help advance their careers massively in ways both overt and covert; membership in that group essentially secures their success in life. The cost of entry, paid by all members of the group, is participation in humiliating acts which will forever wed them to the group. Because should they later act in a way contrary to the group’s interests or desires, their indiscretions can be brought back to destroy their careers or personal lives.
Lord Ashcroft, a billionaire and former party donor, has reminded Cameron that while he may be Prime Minister, he is still beholden to those who put him there in the first place. And sadly for Cameron, they are just as fucked up as he is.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.