Baby boars. Photo: Getty
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What David Cameron did to the pig, his party is now doing to the country

There is a reason David Cameron is allowed to hold office when everyone assumes he spent the 1980s getting up to weird things with pork, but Jeremy Corbyn is considered unelectable because he didn’t sing the national anthem last week.

Whatever you do, don’t think about David Cameron and a dead pig. I know, I know it’s like trying not to think of an elephant, but the fact is that the allegations that the Prime Minister may have put a 'private part of his anatomy" into a dead pig's mouth as part of an initiation ritual for an elite drinking society at Oxford University are actually a very serious matter, and it’s all about corruption and the nature of elected power, and it would help if we could all just calm down for a second and stop giggling. Don’t think I don’t see you at the back there.

You know, I feel for David Cameron today, I really do. Politicians’ private sex lives should never be used against them - unless their particular proclivities implicate them in gross hypocrisy or they have harmed another human being. If the rumours are true, it’s unlikely that the pig in question was hurt by the Prime Minister’s ministrations, given that it was already missing its limbs and torso.

Sniggering aside, this is unlikely to hurt David Cameron in the long run. He’s not looking for re-election, and besides, everyone knows posh people get up to weird sex stuff. Weird sex stuff is as British as weak tea and racism. When I was at Oxford, it was an open secret that the posh kids had naughty parties, and, of course, so did the rest of us - the difference was the much lower budget, and the fact that the posh kids didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as we did. It all seemed to be more about getting on than getting off. You didn’t shag or not shag the pig’s face because that was what you were into, you did it because you had your eye on a safe seat in Dorset in 20 years’ time and you needed to make the right friends.

There is a reason that David Cameron is allowed to hold office when everyone assumes he spent the 1980s taking drugs and getting up to weird things with his Eton mates, but Jeremy Corbyn is considered unelectable because he didn’t sing the national anthem last week. Cameron is part of a select group of people to whom different rules apply, and he knows it, and his friends know it, and the tabloids know it, and the whole cosy British political machine knows it. This is why Corbyn will spend the next five years being savaged for having a slightly rumpled tie by the same newspapers that reported on the dead pig allegations under the title "the making of an extraordinary Prime Minister".

The thing that's really horrifying about what has already been dubbed the 'Hameron' scandal is that it demonstrates what entitlement of this kind actually means, and how embarrassing it all is. There are people out there who can spend their early twenties in close proximity to cocaine and popping their peckers in offal and not even consider for a second that there might be anyone better placed to run the country. These are people who know the rules don’t apply to them, who know they can do whatever they want and still end up in charge. 

I don't honestly care whether or not David Cameron shagged a dead pig. I've been to enough house parties in Bethnal Green that this sort of thing doesn't shock me. Come back to me when there’s video evidence of Cameron dressed in a leather gimp-suit tanned from the flayed skins of the former shadow cabinet, leaping into an entire Shropshire field full of pigs and screaming that his name is Legion. Then we’ll talk. There are a lot of things that David Cameron has definitely done that I do find disgusting, though. Taking away benefits from sick and disabled people, pricing poor kids out of higher education, and forcing millions of families to rely on food banks. That, to me, is shocking and grotesque. I don't give a damn about what he did or didn’t do to that pig, and whether there was mood-lighting involved. 

But the fact is that a lot of people do, and they're precisely the sort of people whose votes Cameron has relied on to shore up the power he clearly feels is his by right, might and various dodgy initiation rituals involving sex workers, smashing up pubs and knobbing bits of meat. Cameron clearly believes those people are there to be manipulated, and that’s the reason this story actually matters, beyond the immediate risk that a handful of pearl-clutchers in the Home Counties might splutter themselves to death. 

I was explaining all this to an American friend who asked, not unreasonably, why I'd spent all morning scrolling through Twitter and cackling like a toddler with a nerf gun. I did my best to describe seriously what had happened, and my friend, who does not follow British politics, asked me, 'so this guy, was he elected or appointed?'

The answer, of course, is both. David Cameron is not just prime minister because a quarter of the country voted for him. That's not how power works in Britain, or anywhere, and it's moments like this that show it plainly, which is why we're all vaguely embarrassed today. Cameron's route to the office he clearly believes himself born to began much earlier, possibly even on a balmy Oxford night, just Dave, a dead pig and a select group of wide-eyed, gurning future business leaders, all whooping and cheering.

It would surely have been a moment more important to Cameron's career than any number of photoshoots with builders in Totnes. Power and money are accessed through the back door, or, as it may be, the pig's mouth, and as with any kink, the eroticism isn't about the act, but about what the act symbolises. It's about humiliation, about control, about power play. What might the young swain have been thinking as he unzipped? What went through his head? If you ask me, I'll bet he was thinking: Soon. Someday soon, I will do this to the whole bloody country.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.