'Like many people I did things when I was young that I should not have done, and that I regret. But I do believe that politicians are entitled to a past that is private, and that remains private.'That was Cameron's defence when it was claimed that he had smoked cannabis while at Eton. I still think that this has been a significant error on his part - he would have been far better advised to admit some youthful errors, accept that it was a mistake from which he had learned and wished to move onwards - perhaps as an example to other young people.
The story rumbles on a few years and the formerly drug-addled boy David is now amongst the dreaming spires of Oxford and falls in with a crowd of yobs who spend their spare time in violence, vomiting and vandalism. These days we'd slap them with ASBOs and they'd be facing the magistrates, or at the very least a segment on the Jeremy Kyle show.
But then, in David's world, things are different. In David's world, drugs are a little bit of fun for rich boys, where the worst that you can happen to you is that you end up copying out Latin text - not being shot in your bedroom. In David's world, Daddy's money will always buy you out of trouble when you and your equally rich mates trash someone's pub or restaurant - there won't be a record for criminal damage at the end of it. That's the Bullingdon Club, a group of upper-class tossers who 'love the sound of breaking glass.' In other spheres, Tories would demand that the thuggish members of such a group face long terms of imprisonment or the birch, but give them an Oxbridge degree and they are entirely suitable for rehabilitation as political leaders. In an article written after the club trashed a pub in Fyfield in 2004, the Oxford Student wrote (hat tip to Snowflake5):
A large part of the members’ motivation is the feudal idea that its quite alright to inflict damage on peasants’ property, provided one is able to pay for it. That’s why Alexander Fellowes, at the White Hart, tipped the waitress £200, on top of all of the members paying for the damage inflicted. Our source described the White Hart landowner as “unfair” for reporting the matter to the police and as having “no sense of humour”.And they are still at it.
But the thing is, these stories about youthful excess have moved on from school to university. Is there a point when Cameron can no longer claim the defence of youthful high spirits?
It says a lot about Cameron - a man who is at home amongst Old Etonians (Bullingdon members are usually from that particular group) and has surrounded himself with them even in his current post. He belonged to a club that believed that money made them better people than you or I, that they are not bound by the standards of behaviour that affect the rest of us - that they are better human beings than the rest of the peasantry. Running the country is nothing more than his entitlement - it is what Eton trains boys to do and to expect. And that is an attitude I despise.
Roy Hattersley puts it well in the Guardian today.
The most offensive aspect of Cameron's Bullingdon years is that he and his cronies were bought out of trouble by their rich families. They flaunted the idea that people with money can get away with anything. In 1963, after Alec Douglas-Home had become prime minister, Harold Wilson expressed his surprise that "at a time when even the MCC had ended the distinction between professionals and amateurs, the Conservatives have chosen to be led by a gentleman rather than a player". Now, in an age when all the political parties claim to believe - for good or ill - in meritocracy, the Tories have chosen to be led by a man who was propelled onwards and upwards by family money.
The Labour party ought to make the Bullingdon picture a feature of its next election campaign. There are a number of Cameron photographs which, put together, would provide an entertaining leaflet. Each one could be captioned with one of the questions that opinion polls ask about politicians. Bicycling to the Commons, followed by a chauffeur-driven motorcar, would justify "Trustworthy?". Supporting Norman Lamont on Black Wednesday would precede the inquiry "Best at running the economy?". And the Bullingdon Club photograph? The question it provokes is obvious. "Understands ordinary people?"
Gird your loins, folks. Even as they try to ditch the old Tory knights of the shires, the upper classes are back and they want what is rightfully theirs. They've had to suffer prime ministers without the benefit of a public school and Oxbridge education and they've had enough.
Are we going to give in to 'em?