It’s a good thing Britain doesn’t have anything serious to worry about like a migrant crisis, a collapsing health system or being caught up in a global economic slowdown.
The top news today from the country that calls itself home to the Mother of Parliaments is the youthful excesses of Prime Minister the Hon. David Cameron MP, set out in lurid detail by a spurned former colleague.
According to the author of a new book plugged on Monday by the Daily Mail, these excesses including putting “a private part of his anatomy” into the mouth of a dead pig as part of an initiation ceremony to a boorish upper-class ‘dining club’ (think Animal House crossed with Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited). The book also alleges Cameron smoked pot and, even worse, listened to the 1970s progressive rock band Supertramp, but those more serious charges understandably got less attention Monday.
Now, here at Fortune we respect the right of every reader to favor entertainment and amusement over hard news, so if that is your desire this Monday morning, then simply head over now to Twitter, where it has been the world’s #1 trend all morning (yes, the dystopian future you read about has arrived). #Piggate and #Hameron are your keys to the kingdom of tasteless hilarity and hours of lost productivity.
We’ll only note that Cameron’s spokeswoman declined to dignify the claim with a comment, pointedly referring to the admission by the book’s author, Michael Ashcroft, that he “had a beef” with Cameron for being frozen out of a top job after the party’s 2010 election victory. Ashcroft, a billionaire tax exile, was treasurer and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and the political research he lavishly funded was instrumental in helping the party return to power for the first time in 15 years.
Boiled down to its essence, the book appears to amount to little more than payback for that act of perceived betrayal by Cameron. But the play it got (or didn’t get) in the U.K. media Monday was intriguing, with many major players refusing to carry the story for hours.
Most conspicuous was the complete silence of the state-owned and supposedly impartial British Broadcasting Corporation, currently trying to defend its domination of the U.K. media scene and running scared of a government that harbors plenty of grudges against its perceived left-wing bias. The government has put under review the system that forces all TV owners in the U.K. to pay an annual license fee of 145.5o pounds ($227) to fund the Beeb.
The BBC, which prides itself on its editorial independence from government, suppressed the Daily Mail from its reviews of the morning’s papers on its website Monday and studiously refused to discuss it on its morning magazine shows on TV or radio.
Rather more surprising was the silence of Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire–even though the book was co-authored by Isabel Oakeshott, formerly political editor of Murdoch’s Sunday Times. Commentators in the News UK stable who last week were savaging Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership style, policies and dress sense last week were strangely silent. The Daily Telegraph, the other prominent Tory newspaper, responded with a vigorous denial by unnamed ‘friends’ of Cameron.
Conspiracy theorists may sense the onset of a battle for the Tory leadership in the air. The Mail is unflinchingly loyal to the party, and to see it launching a devastating smear on its leader, the Prime Minister no less, has the feel of going beyond the news agenda of the day–a feeling that gets stronger when the rest of the Tory media seem unsure how to react.
Cameron has already indicated this will be his last term in office and his potential successors are already jockeying for position. Two of them–Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson–may not be helped by the fact that they were members, together with Cameron, of another ‘dining club’ for the self-appointed elite of tomorrow while at Oxford. Ashcroft, with a personal fortune of over $1 billion, still has the means to pull strings in Tory circles if he so desires.
Or it may just be the best bit of political clickbait this side of the Atlantic all year. Even if it isn’t The Crime of the Century.