While a good proportion of readers who've been through the higher education system have had similar experiences to the one described above, our social betters are far more outrageous. I can wince about nights closing with my arms draped around the toilet bowl, or recall snogging young women I should have steered clear of. But never shall I look back at the time one had an intimate entanglement with a dead pig.
It's been a right old laugh to be sure, but let's get chin stroky about it. On the source of the story, it's not too difficult to pin down. As Isabel Oakeshott - Lord Ashcroft's co-writer on the (very) unauthorised biography of Dave - admitted on C4 News earlier, it's not difficult to work out who the "Tory MP contemporary at Oxford" source might be, though I look forward to him rebutting similar questions when the limelight swings back his way. Yet, does it really matter. Truth is, if something scurrilous about a left MP was published - like the crap thrown at Jeremy Corbyn this last week, we'd recognise it as shoddy journalism. Which, of course, it is. Why Oakeshott has immolated her career this way is a mystery, but not so Lord Ashcroft's motives. After all, buying a senior cabinet position for £8m and ending up with a crappy kettle monitor's role has got to burn.
But really, beyond the comedy, does it matter? Yes, actually, it does. Not because of salaciousness or the entertaining stupidity of one's younger days. On the whole, what's in the past should stay there. The only exception is if private scandal then means public impropriety now. Yet something rings true about the allegation beyond did Dave/didn't Dave. We know young men from well-heeled families have a thing for disgusting initiation rites. Toby Young, wheeling himself out to defend the PM's character earlier, said of Oxford's secret societies:
the venerable, all-male institutions where Oxford's social elite are initiated into Britain's ruling class, [can look forward to] receiving instruction on such arcane rituals as how to "bumper" a yard of port, slice the cork off a champagne bottle with a sword and engage in a range of sexual practices that would make Belle de Jour blush.These borderline legal and repugnant practices (a yard of port?) have their functions. One's humiliation becomes the basis of experiences shared only by a self-selected elite. To participants and outsiders enraptured by such things - itinerant waifs and social climbers seeking admittance into and the affirmation of the top networks - the feats of endurance and perversion these rites involve confer an aura of exclusivity on the in-group. An outsider never knows quite what they might be required to do, and balking them at the moment of reveal can spell social death and effect one's chances after Oxbridge. Especially in the lucrative city non-jobs many of these young men move into. The second is a form of solidarity. All the in-group know the unsavoury practices each and everyone has gone through to be there. The price of social exclusivity and its post-graduation rewards are purchased with the understanding of potential (future) social suicide. The group have to hang together or, in a manner of speaking, they will hang separately. The outward facing aura and the veiled inward-facing threat underpins a solidarity that can bind a network together for decades. And as we know from the PM's reluctance to ever sack anyone, Dave is very much attached to his friends.
The pig stuff gets the shock factor, but it lifts the lid on the sorts of ritualised practices our ruling class use to admit and police its boundaries. If it makes them look ridiculous and debauched as a collective, then perhaps Oakeshott and Ashcroft's muckraking will have served a useful purpose.