Rowan Pelling: The photo that Cameron must regret

Forget the drugs. It's being part of that club of toffee-nosed bullies that's the real embarrassment

Share
Related Topics

It's rare that I view a photo of a group of strapping young men and am filled with an overwhelming desire to strafe them with an Uzi. Or to drop them all in the middle of the Borneo rainforest with some dinner jackets and a bottle of Bolly and shout: "See how far that gets you, mate." Seething hostility verging on psychosis was my presiding emotion on seeing the 1987 picture of the Bullingdon Club published in a new biography of David Cameron written by Independent on Sunday journalists James Hanning and Francis Elliott. (The Bullingdon Club, for those of you who remain in blissful ignorance, is an elite "invitation-only" drinking and dining society, based at Oxford University.) Have you ever seen such a bunch of arrogant, inbred, sphincter-faced tosspots?

The Bully boys may, I suppose, claim something satirical in their toffee-nosed swagger - poised as they are as if about to thrash a brace of footmen for insubordination - but nobody I know is laughing. Nor do they give a monkey's about whether Cameron smoked cannabis or not while he was a student. I suspect most people wouldn't give a damn if he'd mainlined heroin and lived in a brothel. But the shaming evidence that he once flaunted himself as the living embodiment of floppy-haired, Bride- shead-style privilege has the potential to decimate his credibility. And I suspect it is women who will be the most repelled.

I didn't meet a single female last week who hasn't expressed skin-creeping revulsion in reaction to this picture. "It's the sort of thing that makes you want to go and shag a load of Geordie brickies just to wipe the image from your memory," said one friend. "Bring back Prescott, all is forgiven," said another. "I bet you every woman can look at the picture," said a third, "and see a boy who reminds them of the bloke they most regret sleeping with. The one who couldn't remember your name in the morning. Wankers." (Apologies, but the Bullingdon photo induced unprecedented use of obscenities in even the mildest-mannered females.)

I'm the first to admit I make a crappy class warrior. When my grandchildren ask me: "What part did you play in the great class war, nan?", I will say: "Don't call me nan, darling, that's so non-U," before confessing that I sat in front of John Craven's Newsround circa 1984 saying: "Why don't the miners leave the poor policemen alone, Mummy." It's not my fault. I grew up near Sevenoaks, a town where socialists posed a distant, mythic threat like vampires in rural Transylvania. One girl I went to school with had parents who voted Labour, and once when we drove past their house my mother said, like Miss Marple unearthing an important clue: "See, their door is red." Also, like many girls who glutted on the Brontës, Jane Austen and the Mitford sisters, I tended towards a wildly over-romanticised view of aristos - an idea that was allowed to flourish unadulterated for years, until I met some real toffs.

As someone who's been castigated for having a posh voice, I'm the first to agree that inverted snobbery is as insidious and hurtful as the straightforward snooty kind. Until you look at that Bullingdon photo. There's a difference between discriminating against someone because of their accent and origins and being prejudiced because a person chooses of his own free volition to don "royal blue tailcoats with ivory lapels" and behave like a congenital moron.

We are told Bullingdon Club behaviour consisted of drinking yourself stupid before trashing a restaurant and offering the proprietor a fistful of "large denomination notes". I would have liked to see anyone try that stunt at my parents' pub. My Dad would have blasted them to Blenheim with his gun. Other anecdotes include writer Harry Mount's account of "being rolled down a hill by a Hungarian count", and Boris Johnson's talk of "dark deeds involving plastic cones and letterboxes". I once belonged to a club devoted to wilful misdeeds, such as posting litter through the village letterbox and strewing debris across people's bedrooms. But The Terrible Two Witches' Cats only had two members - Polly and me - and we were only seven.

Arrested development is a pitifully inadequate term to cover the antics of the Bullingdon boys. And I suspect any ire roused in female breasts by the photo stem from a fairly widespread experience ofencountering this brand of emotionally stunted ex-public-schoolboy. Chaps whose interest in womankind was largely confined to whether you were called Topaz and had been to Benenden. The worst offenders were often Old Etonians. This sounds chippy, but you'd be chippy if you walked past some OE fogey in an Oxford college's grounds of a February night and heard him mutter: "Horrible women, they are melting the snow." If you were told that current Etonian slang for ugly girls was: "She mings for Greater Manchester". If you met one Bullingdon member about 60 times and he even visited your digs on numerous occasions, but he often forgot your name because you existed beyond his social parameters. If Oxford taught me anything, it was the mantra that "poor boys are more fun".

I wonder what it taught David Cameron. That you can break the rules and restaurant windows and get away with it? That a wad of notes sorts out awkward questions? This almost certainly does him a grave disservice, but one lesson is clear to all of us: you should never pose for a photo you may one day regret.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links