Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Bore's Head

Even if the allegation is completely untrue, David Cameron will now forever more be known as a pig-fucker. This is partly because the other revelations in the unauthorised biography by Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakshott are trivial, but mainly because the image of a decapitated porker coming into contact with the PM's pork sword is so powerful that it blinds us to the rest of the portrait. In Ashcroft's hands, Cameron comes across as casual, reluctant to think (which appears to be the criticism coming from the military), and louche, but probably no more than the average for his social "set". There is an inescapable air of middle-class moralising by the ex-grammar schoolboy about the privileged Old Etonian, which is why the serialisation was a good fit for the Daily Mail. There is no real story here, but there is an endless source of jokes and puns.

The pig's head has long been a rich symbol. As a hunted animal, the wild boar was admired for its willingness to fight, and also had associations in mythology with the underworld (all that rooting about), death and winter. The Boar's Head Feast, which lives on in the modern Christmas ham, is clearly a solstice celebration in which the cooked boar symbolises the death of the darkest season, though it's not entirely clear what the apple (or orange or lemon) in the mouth represents, if anything (it's surely just an unfortunate coincidence that it looks like a bondage ball-gag). The oldest extant English ceremony is found (coincidentally) at Queen's College, Oxford, which legend has it originated when a student, attacked by a wild boar, choked the animal by stuffing a volume of Aristotle down its throat. This obviously symbolises the triumph of learning over the feral, and thus the wider victory of civilisation over nature, but it also provides a pun on the traditional herbal accompaniment: he "fairly choked the savage with the sage".

As a representative of the dark side, the wild boar has often been seen as evil or possessed (e.g. the Gadarene swine), hence the common belief that pigs are unclean. Even where they are eaten and have been domesticated, they remain a metaphor for human uncouthness: the swinish multitude. In the modern era, the pig's head has become a threat of violence (easier to buy and manoeuvre than a severed horse's head), often deployed as a conscious act of pollution, hence its frequent appearance hurled at the doors of police stations, synagogues and mosques. Back in 1978, I saw Angelic Upstarts at Newcastle Poly kicking a fresh pig's head around the stage to accompany their debut single, The Murder of Liddle Towers. The song referred to a local hardnut who was found kicked to death after a night in the police cells. I even remember the chorus: "Who killed Liddle? The police killed Liddle; police killed Liddle Towers". Naturally, the police tried to nick them for this provocation.

Though a pig's head can be a tasty dish, and could therefore be considered a good thing, it still retains that unmistakable message of contempt even when cooked, hence the cochinillo, or suckling pig, that was famously thrown at Luis Figo when he returned to the Camp Nou as a Real Madrid player in 2002. The association of the pig's head and sport, or male-bonding more generally, is not accidental. It is a fairly common prop of rugby club night-outs and stag-dos, and occasionally to be found hidden as a surprise present in changing room lockers. Perhaps this carries an echo of the ancient hunt, from which most sports derive. Or perhaps the pig's head is just a handy piece of ickiness in a world where we rarely see the reality of factory-farming and meat production. A packet of Walls' sausages does not have quite the same impact.

Quite a few people have drawn a parallel between the Cameron tale and The Lord of the Flies, the eponymous boar's head and totem that symbolises innate human evil in the book by William Golding, but this too obviously seeks to emphasise the debauchery and amorality of a groups of unsupervised schoolboys. The Piers Gaveston Society, which dates from the early Thatcher years, was probably more influenced by Brideshead Revisited and the Cambridge Apostles (the sex and sarcasm more than the philosophising or spying). As was evident in the sociology of the Bullingdon Club, what matters is the sense of entitlement and the associated licence to display contempt towards outsiders and social inferiors; a heady brew for conformist teenagers. In this context, the choice of a pig's head does not appear to be particularly significant.

What would turn the merriment into full-blown disgust - and thereby prove the Piers Gaveston Society to be true provocateurs rather than poseurs, while simultaneously condemning Cameron down the ages - would be to discover that the ceremony was a sort of black-mass in which the initiate cursed and defiled an embodiment of the Empress of Blandings, the noble beast who appeared in no less than ten P G Wodehouse stories. Morrissey's call for the prime Minister to resign if the allegation is true could quickly become the defining social media campaign of our time. Jeremy Corbyn ought to ask a question in the House. It's surely what the nation wants.


  1. My opinion of Isabel Oakshott was low following her role in the Chris Huhne, Vicky Pryce, Constance Briscoe debacle. However by forcing David Cameron to deny he ever had his pecker in a pigs head I must give Ms Oakshott some grudging credit as an operator. It is, however a very old trick. The following is an extract from Fear and Loathing On the Campaign Trail '72 By Hunter S. Thompson.

    This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics. Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble, and it has even been elevated to the level of political mythology in a story about one of Lyndon Johnson’s early campaigns in Texas. The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent’s life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.

    “Christ, we can’t get a way calling him a pig-fucker,” the campaign manager protested. “Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.”

    “I know,” Johnson replied. “But let’s make the sonofabitch deny it.”

    Any future potential British Prime minister may now have to make assurances about what he has done with his pecker in the past. The obvious solution to this is to make PM a female only position. It's impossible for someone to have your pecker in his pocket if you don't possess a pecker. The Labour party has seen fit to overlook two fine female candidates. Perhaps Ms Oakshott's ulterior motive was to point out that there are some fine female candidates for leader of the Tory party. To make this clear to any Tory readers of this blog I have listed some of the peckerless candidates and their odds of being the next Tory leader from William Hill.

    Theresa May 8/1
    Liz Truss 40/1
    Maria Miller 50/1
    Chloe Smith 80/1
    Justine Greening 50/1
    Sarah Wollaston 66/1

  2. This pretty much summarises what I would have said:

    ...except that I would add that between, say, 1960 and the 1990s, being an Old Etonian would probably have been at least a slight disadvantage in the realm of political popularity and success, though obviously still no obstacle to a political career of some kind. The question is, exactly when and why did it change?

    1. I'm not sure it did change. The era of the "classless society" was relatively brief, and more an aspiration than a reality, running from the Profumo Affair in 1964 to Thatcher's elevation as leader of the Tory party in 1975. Essentially this was the "sixties" as experienced by the majority of the population.

      The late 70s saw the return of performative class contempt, initially in the irony of the Young Fogey, and with a side-order of barely-concealed racism in the Young Conservative's pro-apartheid stance. The combination of the TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited and the Falklands War marked the high-point of this particular revanche.

      Alec Douglas-Home's problems in 1964 were that he was a peer who had been parachuted into a safe seat, a representative of an older generation deemed out-of-touch, and a long-time Tory party apparatchik (he had been PPS to Chamberlain in the late-30s). Being an Old Etonian was the least of his worries, though "upper class twit" was an easy shorthand for some critics.

    2. What is more mystifying is how Cameron gets away with the contradiction between being born-to-rule and punting being the "party of the working people".

    3. I'm not saying that there was a 'classless society', merely that the political class, or the public face of the 'elite' was more plebian during that period. Even the Tory PMs between 1970 and 1997 were not public-school educated, though it is also noteworthy that Labour leaders weren't either between Gaitskell and Blair. In terms of other leading politicians it isn't quite as decisive, but trade unionists were more prominent among the Labour ranks and under Thatcher the traditional 'wet' grandees fell somewhat out of favour.

    4. I should also add that Wilson tried to make a lot out of Douglas-Home's aristocratic background and 'amateurishness', rather than just the fact that they had to make a Commons seat for him.