Cameron struggles with the Bullingdon question

"We all do stupid things when we're young," says Cameron. Why then "zero tolerance" for the looters?

David Cameron was his usual assured self on this morning's Today programme until Evan Davis asked him the "Bullingdon question". Wasn't the infamous Oxford club (whose idea of a good night out was characterised by Evelyn Waugh as beating a fox to death with champagne bottles) just like the gangs that rioted? An audibly uncomfortable Cameron replied: "we all do stupid things when we're young - and we should learn the lessons." It's notable that Cameron used the same formulation during the 2005 Tory leadership election when he was asked about rumours of past drug use. Indeed, he previously responded to a question about that Bullingdon Club photo by similarly claiming: "we do things when we're young and we deeply regret them". It sounded like an admission of guilt then and it sounds like an admission of guilt now.

But Cameron refused to accept that there was any comparison to be made between the behaviour of the club's members and the rioters. The riots, he said, were "very well organised", which rather invites the response: is disorganised violence acceptable? Cameron's claim that he never saw a restaurant smashed up will also be challenged by some of his university contemporaries. But it was his assertion that "we all do stupid things when we're young" (in fact, some will reply, not all of us) that will prove most damaging. As Cameron said, we learn with age. Why then hand down the most draconian sentences possible? Cameron was in danger of appearing to suggest that it was one rule for the Oxford elite and another for the rest of the society.

This is one subject that the PM would rather never be asked about again. But after his faltering response today, it is certain that he will be.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.