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24 September 2015

David Cameron and the art of the toe-touch

46 minutes at a camp in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley - it's the Downing Street toe-touch, just enough to be seen.

By Kevin Maguire

Oink once for “yes”, twice for “no”. You’d need a heart of stone not to enjoy David Cameron’s public roasting after the billionaire squealer Michael Ashcroft stuck the ungrateful beneficiary of his loot on a spit. The alleged insertion of a penis into a dead pig’s mouth beats eating a bacon sandwich weirdly in the scale of PR disasters.

The No 10 porker’s approach to saving his bacon this time has been markedly different from when the first allegations of consuming illegal substances emerged. Back then, he trotted over to me at a reception to introduce himself as “Druggy Dave”, a moniker applied to him by this column, taking the sting out of the gibe. Desperate to avoid fresh pig grillings, Cameron could always simply describe himself as an animal botherer to take the heat off.

The PR PM’s cloven-hoofed response to the party pig contrasted with his flying visit to Syrian refugees. My snout with the stopwatch timed him at 46 minutes at a camp in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley and 65 at another camp outside Amman, Jordan, where he loitered for a few moments for TV interviews. It’s known as the Downing Street toe-touch: staying just long enough to be seen.

British lefties prefer the purity of the ousted Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to the austerity surrender of Alexis Tsipras, who has secured a second Syriza victory. The former comrades are rivals these days. The glamour ego Varoufakis, rock star of Hellenic politics, boasts a large female fan club. At the Trades Union Congress in Brighton he beamed, I hear, as an excited woman banged on the window to attract his attention. But what she screamed must have hurt: “Look, it’s Alexis Tsipras!”

To Bournemouth for the conference of the Lib Dem “cockroaches” (as their leader, Tim Farron, once unwisely described the survivors of an election catastrophe). The Lib Dem history group has drawn a line under a grisly past. The child abuser Cyril Smith has been airbrushed out of a hall of fame on the organisation’s stand. “We were tired of explaining why he was included,” sighed a volunteer. Jeremy Thorpe has also vanished. The volunteer insisted, “We couldn’t find a photograph of him.” Very Stalinist.

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The row over Corbyn’s silent anthem triggered flashbacks for Gerry Sutcliffe of the day that the Queen’s corgis snapped at his ankles in Buckingham Palace. Sutcliffe was the whip with a wand who carried notes to Her Maj.

“I don’t know why they go for you,” observed the Queen. “Ma’am, it’s because I’m working class,” replied the former printer. She smiled. No denial.

The Labour conference venue for the Mirror bash was booked before Corbyn’s triumph but it is appropriate: a bar called Revolution.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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This article appears in the 23 Sep 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Revenge of the Left