Porcine scandals apart, our leaders have their doubles in fiction

We all do embarrassing things at university, but reliving ‘Brideshead Revisited’ should be repressed

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The Independent Online

The nation lit up in mirth and disbelief this week at the allegations in Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott’s unauthorised biography of David Cameron. Conservative sources have flatly denied that the Prime Minister took part in a porcine hazing ceremony in the exclusive Piers Gaveston Society at Oxford, dismissing it as “utter nonsense” – but that has done little to quell the laughter and online joking.

Perhaps more embarrassing are the claims made by the writer and Oxford contemporary, James Delingpole, who reports that he spent his Oxford days in his room with Cameron, smoking weed and listening to Supertramp.

That raises its own questions over how exactly prog rock fits into the even more bizarre admission that – while everyone else was getting sorted for Es and attending all-night raves – Cameron and Delingpole’s chums were instead trying to relive the fictional – yes, fictional – hedonism of Brideshead Revisited.

“The series had been on TV not long before we came up, and they didn’t do drugs in Brideshead. They did champagne and Brandy Alexanders, so fizz and cocktails were what we did mainly, too,” Delingpole writes for The Spectator. Clowns rarely possess much self awareness, so it’s little surprise that the visceral cringe-worthiness of this passes him by.

We all do embarrassing things at university – hey, I nearly slept with a Tory – but pretending that you’re characters in a classic social satire is really something you should try to repress. He may find now that aspects of Donna Tartt’s Secret History resonate better with his campus memories, dealing as it does with sexual transgressions that shock society and people with a misguided yearning to live in the past.

With secret societies, violence, tragedy, bacchanalia and forbidden sexual behaviour, Tartt’s US novel could easily be passed as a fictionalisation of rumoured behaviour in the Bullingdon Club.

But, taking Delingpole at his word and casting the pair as Flyte and Ryder, you can’t help looking around the other parties for fictional kindred spirits. 

Learning that Jeremy Corbyn had a fondness for cold beans, it’s impossible not to think of him in The Young Ones. Hippie, long-haired Neil? 

But no, I’d cast the Labour leader as Vyvyan – the punk shaking things up who secretly loves his mum. Certainly not the universally loathed Rik, who is surely a young Tony Blair. 

 And while the internal struggles in Labour may feel like a recasting of Our Friends in the North, there’s also an undeniable similarity between the new leader and Wolfie Smith. 

Meanwhile, what to do with poor Tim Farron, labouring under the idea that his party – which, with eight MPs, could feasibly hold a PLP meeting in a large cab – is still relevant? Recent interviews show he genuinely seems to believe the Liberal Democrats are on the resurgence. He is the master of self delusion, Westminster’s David Brent.

Literature has more parallels. Christopher Isherwood’s eponymous character in Mr Norris Takes the Train reminds me of Boris Johnson, who seems to have stumbled and bumbled into power. 

And Ashcroft’s public trouncing of Cameron’s reputation could be straight out of the revenge tragedies that are the staple of any Elizabethan drama. The problem there is that everybody usually dies. Politically, at least, it’s a possibility