Leaders: Prime ministers are entitled to a past

David Cameron has declined to comment on the allegations. Picture: Getty
David Cameron has declined to comment on the allegations. Picture: Getty
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LORD Ashcroft’s status as a billionaire capable of exerting a considerable influence over the electorate thanks to his polling operation has led many to express distaste over his motives for writing his unauthorised biography of Prime Minister David Cameron.

If, as seems to be the case, a major factor behind his decision to publish was Mr Cameron’s decision not to offer him a job of a certain standing, then he stands accused of pettiness at best. Others have gone further and accused him of embarking on a malicious crusade, an act so vindictive it is tantamount to revenge.

This may be true, but all of us have the right to make our views heard and a man who has played a prominent role in this country’s political life may well have some intriguing things to say. It is no coincidence that the book’s publishers yesterday doubled its initial print run.

Alleged scandal and political acrimony are manna to the literary trade and in Call Me Dave, there is a high-profile first-hand account detailing the irrevocable breakdown of a senior relationship at the heart of the Conservative Party.

It stands to reason that a sizeable minority of the book’s readers will not be employed in the political world or the fourth estate, but simply want to glimpse first-hand some of the more shocking allegations laid out by Lord Ashcroft and his co-author, journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

The initial serialisation suggests there are plenty of colourful anecdotes interspersed among the dry biographical details. Reaction to the book so far has largely focused on one specific allegation against Mr Cameron, which details his youthful indiscretions with a deceased pig at Piers Gaveston, an Oxford dining society with a reputation for decadence.

But like a few of the headline stories earmarked for serialisation, their reliability warrants the once-over. The former allegation comes from a single, unnamed source, while the details of narcotics use is so circuitously worded (the book quotes one member of Mr Cameron’s social circle who recalls “the drug being in open circulation at a dinner party in the Camerons’ home”) as to come across as a damp squib rather than a smoking gun.

No doubt further allegations will emerge in the coming days and they deserve to be aired. At the same time, we should read them in the knowledge that everyone, including serving prime ministers, are entitled to a past.

It is human nature that at various stages of our lives, we engage in certain pursuits, some of which we come to regret. That is a natural process. It may be important to know about the life experiences of a public figure, especially one in a position of prominence, but in the case of Lord Ashcroft’s allegtions, nothing that has been published to date tells us anything remotely relevant about the man who occupies 10 Downing Street. It is important that we, the public, attach no real significance to Ashcroft’s airings.

Alumni protest worth heeding

IT is unorthodox for Scotland’s oldest and most respected seats of learning to rail against political developments, so when they speak up it means their voices are usually worth heeding. In the case of the University of Edinburgh, the Scottish Government’s proposed changes to the way in which the country’s great educational institutions are governed is one such instance.

The university’s General Council yesterday took the step of writing to its alumni seeking their support in a protest against controversial provisions found in the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill 2015.

Professor Charles Swainson, convener of the Council’s business committee, and Dr Michael J Mitchell, the Council’s secretary, detail a number of misgivings with the draft legislation, not least the fear that the imposition of a single model of governance will impose “unnecessary and probably harmful uniformity.”

Mindful that the generations of students who passed through Edinburgh now occupy positions of power and influence, the Council has asked its alumni to scrutinise the bill and make their views known to their local MSP or First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The correspondence notes: “We realise that these are unusual requests but we strongly believe that this is a misguided way to achieve positive developments in governance.”

Edinburgh is not alone in seeking extraordinary solutions to what it regards as a potential crisis, with St Andrews having lobbied thousands of its graduates. If such uncustomary appeals are now becoming a trend, is it not a sign that the Scottish Government might be best considering its proposals in greater detail?