Thursday 22 March 2018

It doesn't matter if it's a 'porky pie', many voters believe what they want, in a sorry tale

The original mud-slinger: Lyndon B Johnson
The original mud-slinger: Lyndon B Johnson

James Kirkup

There is, as they say, only one story the political world is sniggering about today. In an unambiguously hostile biography of David Cameron, it is reported that as a young man the Prime minister placed his private parts in the mouth of a dead pig.

This is said to have been part of an initiation for an aristocratic Oxford University dining club. There is a photograph, it is said.

There are so many questions that flow from this, but possibly the most important are: is it true? And what is the political impact of this story?

"Perverse as it might sound, there really aren't any political consequences of a story that the Prime Minister did something rude to a dead pig"

First, the truth. Is it true? It doesn't matter. As Lyndon Johnson knew, the real point of accusing your enemy of sex with pigs is to force him to deny it. True or not, the image is so vivid it sticks in the mind, indelibly colouring someone's reputation. And LBJ was operating in the pre-internet age. Today online debate is emotion first, facts a long-distant second.

Hours after publication, the internet had decided that David Cameron did something unspeakable with a pig. Nothing can change that.

Even the most convincing and comprehensive refutation of the story, a sworn confession from everyone involved that they made it up, won't change the story: it would just become a footnote on a Wikipedia page, a thing clever people say in years to come when the story is retold in pubs ("actually it wasn't true"). Some stories are so compelling the truth can't change them. Look up who really deleted Milly Dowler's voice mails to see what I mean.

And does this matter? How does it affect politics? I suspect some of my trade will have a go at arguing that it does matter, that it has political significance. They'll say it adds to the image of the young Cameron as a man of privileged depravity, a man who lived a life far removed from the rest of the country.

For the truly partisan, it becomes a matter of comparison: when Jeremy Corbyn was fighting for justice for the poor, David Cameron and his posh mates were allegedly doing mad stuff with farm animals. Et cetera.

If that sounds weak and unconvincing it's because it is. Perverse as it might sound, there really aren't any political consequences of a story that the Prime Minister did something rude to a dead pig. It won't change anyone's mind about him, though it may convince some that they were right in what they already thought. It won't change a single vote, and wouldn't have done so even if Mr Cameron was standing again.

In summary, Britain is now allegedly led by a man whom many voters may suspect once had sex with a dead pig.

And that fact has essentially no political significance. It's a funny old world sometimes.

Irish Independent

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