The Dark Lord: Michael Ashcroft’s history of muck-spreading

With his new book on Carrie Symonds set to cause a Westminster storm, Harry Shukman investigates the motives of the billionaire Tory tax exile who sparked David Cameron's 'Piggate' rumours

It only took four paragraphs to forever change David Cameron in the eyes of the Great British Public. They didn’t even cover a page of the unauthorised biography, Call Me Dave, which came out in 2015. In them, an anonymous MP who had been at Oxford in the 1980s with the former prime minister made an astonishing claim. He said that at a Piers Gaveston party, where Oxford students live out their Brideshead-meets-Eyes-Wide-Shut fantasies, a young Cameron took part in a grisly initiation ceremony. This source claimed — having seen photographic evidence of the deed — that Cameron placed his penis into the mouth of a dead pig. Apparently the animal’s head was resting on the lap of a Piers Gav member when Cameron went to third base with it. 

The MP who had been going around telling this story in summer 2014 was deemed “credible” by the authors of Call Me Dave, although they failed to unearth the supposed picture. This piece of evidence, it would seem, has been tantalisingly lost to history. When it comes to apocryphal artefacts that form part of a people’s mythology, the Russians have the Tsar’s Amber Room, the Israelites have the Ark of the Covenant — and we get a photo of a hammered posho being fellated by a dead hog.

David Cameron at a party during his Oxford days. Not pictured: a pig.

Piggate, as it came to be known, was denounced as “utter nonsense” by the PM, although David Cameron has never been able to shake off the smell of porcine scandal. Seven years on, his tweets are still besieged by wags sharing pig emojis or weird sketches of pigs wearing bikinis. A decent result for Michael Ashcroft, who co-authored Call Me Dave with Isabel Oakeshott, even though she would later admit that her source, rather than being a distinguished politician, “could have been slightly deranged”.

Yanking out the pins of hand grenades and hurling them in the direction of senior Tories might seem like an odd career move for Lord Ashcroft, who was once deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. And yet the billionaire businessman, who is a tax exile citizen of Belize, is now perhaps best known for his investigative hatchet jobs. Not all of Ashcroft’s works are so explosive — recent biographies of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Rishi Sunak did not deliver barnyard-grade horror stories. But any cabinet minister is surely worried about the skeletons in their closets that Ashcroft and his team of researchers might uncover if they fall out of favour with him. Ashcroft’s beef with Cameron dates back to 2010, when, after campaigning for the Tories in the general election and chucking £8 million at them, he was denied a senior role in his government.

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