Much has been made of David Cameron’s decision to stand down from Parliament. Is he too lazy to help his constituents? Too greedy to turn down lucrative speaking gigs? To proud to serve under another PM? Or could it possibly be that Cameron is finally looking to take revenge for that pigfucking stuff?
Every so often, a story appears in the news that has us straight on the phone to our lawyers. Not because we plan to take any legal action, more because it’s thrown up a strange niggling query in our minds.
To give you an example, when Leon Brittan died last year we saw everyone taking full advantage of our libel laws and laying straight into him for being a massive, massive paedo. They did so safe in the knowledge that they couldn’t be sued for it as it’s technically impossible to libel the dead.
It got us thinking though: What if Leon Brittan knew that would happen?
What if he’d seen how successfully Lord McAlpine had sued people (like Sally Bercow) for merely insinuating that he was a bit of a paedo? What if Leon Brittain had consciously decided to let a rumour circulate about his death, knowing that the first thing many of his critics would do would be to label him as a serial sex offender? Could he then miraculously resurrect himself and sue everyone who slandered him while they thought he was dead?
We didn’t think that that was what had happened, of course – but once we started thinking about it, we couldn’t stop wondering if Leon Brittan would legally be able to pull such a trick off.
Our lawyer’s thoughts on that particular instance are here, if it’s of any interest, but this month we had another reason to place one of these calls.
Two things happened in the news in quick succession which got the same little voices in our heads chirping again. Two things which, on the surface, bear little relation to one another – but have come together at a very curious time.
1/ Cameron Stands Down
The first event was David Cameron resigning from his seat in Parliament, quitting with immediate effect and standing down as MP for Witney.
This, in and of itself, wasn’t so surprising. Nobody really expected Cameron to stay on in Parliament too much longer. He had already made it very clear that he wasn’t intending to stand for a third term and that he’d have at least one foot out of the door by 2020.
After resigning as PM in the wake of Brexit, there was no way a careerist like Cameron would be happy sitting on the back benches, doing constituency work while Theresa May was taking care of his old job and his backstabbing rival Boris was crashing around the Foreign Office.
It therefore made complete sense that he’d duck and roll at the earliest opportunity.
Many cynical and savvy voices were quick to point out that, in stepping down, Cameron would now no longer be obligated to register his extracurricular payments to Parliament. This would free him up to take all manner of lucrative speaking jobs, or take a seat on an executive board, or sign a multi-million pound deal for his memoirs, without any of the accompanying scrutiny that comes with high office.
This is almost certainly the reason he’s handed in his notice. We don’t doubt any of that for one hot minute. But then a second thing happened – and that’s what sparked off another of these thoughts.
2/ Piggate Turns One
Last week, Britain marked a very special anniversary: one year since the rumour leaked. You know the rumour. That rumour. The pig rumour. The David Cameron-stuck-his-dick-in-a-dead-pig’s-mouth rumour.
With the two things happening in such quick succession, we couldn’t help but wonder: What if Cameron has resigned as an MP so that he could sue Ashcroft and Oakeshott for calling him a pigfucker?
The timing, it turns out, fits pretty neatly.
Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott (the two authors of the biography which brought the rumour to public attention) must have felt tremendously safe when they published it, knowing that prime ministers so rarely sue.
It’s a bad look for a leader, suing the people. A prime minister using the courts to try to silence the press – however wrong, or damaging, or reckless they are being – has an extremely dodgy whiff about it. It comes off as authoritarian, demagogic. Even, dare we say, a little Trumpish.
That’s not to say it hasn’t been done, but it’s a rarity.
There’s a whole psychological element to it. Cameron couldn’t have been seen to be taking it seriously – partly in case people suspected there was some actual truth in it; partly because the press would have used it endlessly as a stick to beat him with it if they saw it got results (other world leaders too, if they ever had cause).
During his time in office, it was was extremely important for Cameron to look as if he could just brush this whole hoo-hah off. No matter how frustrating and humiliating he may have found it, there was simply no way on earth he would be able to sue.
Not while he was PM, at any rate.
No-one could have predicted his exit from Government would be so swift. Certainly not Ashcroft and Oakeshott who, in all likelihood, never anticipated a situation where Cameron would be just an ordinary civvy within a year. But now that he’s out, he’s free to do as he pleases.
Obviously, this isn’t why Cameron chose to quit. But, now that he has quit, would he be able to take action? Would he be able to sue Ashcroft and Oakeshott for spreading the pigfucking rumour.
We asked our lawyer and he told us that the statute of limitation for libel is… would you believe it! One year.
Completely by coincidence, Cameron announced he was leaving Parliament, with immediate effect, exactly 51 weeks after the pigfucking rumour surfaced.
It’s not been reported that Cameron has served Ashcroft and Oakeshott with papers, and the one year window has now closed – but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened. All that’s needed in that year-long window is for Cameron to issue a Claim Form. If he’s done that, then he’s still got another four months before he’d actually have to serve papers – giving him until the end of the year, basically.
So it is technically possible he has got the wheels in motion without anyone being anyone the wiser. However, our lawyer tells us that a libel suit wouldn’t be an easy task for Cameron to win – for a number of reasons.
1/ He’d need to prove that the allegations caused “serious harm” to his reputation. He could possibly get this to fly as future speaking work in other countries is now more important to him, so a good reputation is paramount – and reporters were hardly modest in their coverage of the incident (political cartoonists in particular didn’t shy away from depicting scenes of interspecies romance).
2/ Ashcroft and Oakeshott were very careful and crafty in their framing of the incident. They didn’t actually allege that Cameron fucked a pig, as so many people were keen to pretend. Their presentation of the story was a little more subtle than that – so it may be hard for anyone to press the charge on them.
3/ Most of Ashcroft’s money is in Belize.
However, Cameron isn’t completely out of luck. If he’s determined to get revenge, there’s still one final trick he has up his sleeve.
Our lawyer suggests that if Cameron really wanted to get Ashcroft over this, his best bet is to pull the Gladstone Family trick.
It’s an old story, dating back to the 20s when a biography of William Gladstone (himself a former Prime Minister) was published. Gossip had always circulated about Gladstone’s dalliances with prostitutes, but the rumours about it weren’t published until nearly 20 years after his death.
Gladstone, being dead, couldn’t do anything about it. Gladstone’s sons tried but they weren’t able to sue Peter Wright for libel on their father’s behalf. Instead, they rather ingeniously turned the situation on its head.
They called Wright out as a liar, which incited Wright to sue Gladstone’s sons for libel against him. It was the perfect trap, for when the case came to trial Wright was required (but unable) to provide satisfactory evidence that all the claims in his book were true – and was consequently battered by the Gladstones’ defence.
If Cameron went both barrels on Ashcroft, impugning his reputation and calling him a liar enough to incite Ashcroft to sue him for libel, then it would fall to Ashcroft to prove that the pig rumour was actually true – something our lawyer suspects Ashcroft might struggle to do convincingly.
Sadly, it’s unlikely that Ashcroft would fall for that sort of trick. Still, even if he can’t win the case in the courts, now that Cameron is out of office he basically has carte blanche to call Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott all the names under the sun, from here to eternity – knowing that they probably are in no realistic position to sue either.
Which, as golden handshakes go, is not so bad.