A crackling yarn: As 'piggate' dominates Twitter, No 10 says David Cameron will not 'dignify' lewd claim
Book claims the prime minister put a “private part of his anatomy” into a dead pig’s head as part of a university initiation ritual
Downing Street has refused to comment on the allegations of debauchery by David Cameron in his university days levelled by his former Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, saying they “would not dignify” the claims.
At a regular weekly press briefing, the prime minister’s official spokesman repeatedly said she would not comment on Ashcroft’s book, serialised in the Daily Mail, adding that Ashcroft had himself set out his reasons for writing the book – a reference to No 10’s belief that the book was fuelled by a desire for personal revenge.
Downing Street also refused to say if Cameron intended to sue Ashcroft for libel, or to discuss allegations that the prime minister knew about his non-dom tax status prior to the 2010 election, something Cameron has previously denied.
Ashcroft’s unofficial biography of Cameron has made a series of claims about his involvement in a drug-taking environment at university and his knowledge of the peer’s offshore tax status.
But the claim that set social media alight – #piggate trended on Twitter for most of Monday – came from an MP, who said he had seen photographic evidence that Cameron inserted a “private part of his anatomy” into a dead pig’s head as part of a university dining club initiation ritual.
The MP told the authors Cameron attended a dining club called Piers Gaveston, named after Edward II’s lover and known for its debauchery, as well as being part of the Bullingdon drinking club, which was notorious for trashing rooms.
Speaking to the biographers, one Tory MP said he had been asked to join the Bullingdon Club but walked out of the first event in disgust and considered it was all about “despising poor people”.
The book does not provide any evidence of Cameron ever having been involved in any destruction at the Bullingdon club, and the individual who is said to have a photograph of the incident with the pig has not provided any corroboration.
A friend from university also said Cameron smoked cannabis with him occasionally while listening to Supertramp as part of a group called the Flam Club.
James Delingpole, now a rightwing journalist, told the authors he took the drug with Cameron and another friend at his room at Christ Church college, Oxford University. “My drug of choice was weed, and I smoked weed with Dave,” he reportedly said.
The publication of extracts in the Daily Mail, two weeks before the Tories’ autumn conference, is a sign of how far Ashcroft has fallen out with the prime minister, who is said not to have followed through on a promise to give him a significant job after the 2010 general election.
The prime minister’s spokeswoman said: “The author has set out his reasons for writing the book. The PM is focused on running the country.”
She also said the issue of Ashcroft’s non-dom status predated this government, adding: “It is a line in the book and we are not going to comment on a book.”
The response from No 10 is clearly intended to kill interest in the book, rather than offer a specific denial.
Ashcroft wrote that he had a personal “beef” with Cameron because he did not give him a role in the coalition, claiming Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, had blocked it. Cameron later reconsidered and offered Ashcroft a job as a junior whip in the Foreign Office.
Ashcroft wrote: “After putting my neck on the line for nearly 10 years – both as party treasurer under William Hague and as deputy chairman – and after ploughing some £8m into the party, I regarded this as a declinable offer. It would have been better had Cameron offered me nothing at all.”
The book, co-written by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott, also alleges that Cameron knew in 2009 that Ashcroft had non-dom status, meaning the donor legally did not pay UK tax on overseas earnings.
When a row about this blew up in March 2010, just before the election, the prime minister claimed only to have been aware about it for less than month.
Ashcroft gave millions to the Conservatives before the 2010 election. Relations deteriorated after he was not offered a big job while the Conservatives were infuriated when Ashcroft published his detailed constituency polling in the run-up to 2015, arguing it helped other parties. The billionaire peer has now resigned from the House of Lords.
George Osborne, the chancellor, on Monday dodged a question about whether Ashcroft’s claims had damaged the prime minister.
“Well, I haven’t seen that book,” Osborne said, grinning, during a press conference at the Communist party’s Diayutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China.