David Cameron’s Oxford days in the Bullingdon Club were recently compared to the London riots by Evan Davis in an interview with Today.
In response, Cameron commented, “we all do stupid things when we’re young”, later adding that unlike the Bullingdon Club “what we saw of the riots was very well organised … looting and stealing and thieving.”
The Bullingdon Club, of which David Cameron was a member during his days at Brasenose, is famous for its well-publicised occasional destructive behaviour and highly privileged members. Members are secretly elected, with new members discovering their election by their room being ‘trashed’.
Members are required to purchase the £3,500 uniform from the court tailors Ede and Ravenscroft, which includes a distinctive mustard yellow waistcoat with blue bow tie and monogrammed brass buttons.
The Club is not currently registered as a University society, and was at one point banned from meeting within fifteen miles of Oxford after smashing all 468 windows of Christchurch’s Peckwater Quad in 1927 for the second time.
More recently four members were arrested in 2005 after they broke every piece of crockery, a window, and seventeen bottles of wine while dining at the White Hart pub. Many establishments refuse to take dinner reservations from the Bullingdon Club due to their rowdy reputation.
Particular controversy exists around a night in 1987 when police chased members of the Bullingdon Club through Oxford to the Botanic Gardens after a restaurant window was smashed, an event at which some claim Cameron was present.
Student opinion is divided on whether the comparison between behaviour in the Bullingdon Club and the London riots is fair. James Lawson, President of Oxford University Conservative Association, stated that, “there is no evidence that Cameron ever engaged in criminal activity. Party policy is that criminals should face the full force of the law.”
However, co-chairs of the Oxford University Labour Club Nichola Sugden and Colin Jackson commented that, “a group of incredibly privileged youngsters in Oxford destroying other people’s businesses and property is far less justified and equally unforgiveable”.
When asked by Evan Davis whether he had ever witnessed people throwing things through windows or smashing up restaurants, David Cameron replied, “no, I didn’t”.
However, a Financial Times Westminster Blog post quotes one of Cameron’s Bullingdon contemporaries as saying “a policy of omerta has descended on the Cameron episode. He definitely got completely clean away, so that part of it is true, but the idea that someone just went to bed early! I mean, come on.” At the time of the Blog’s publication the Tory Press Office refused to comment.
The Labour Club’s Women’s Officer Claire Smith claimed, “Evans hit a nerve with Cameron because he was right; having the money to pay to fix the damage shouldn’t be an excuse”.
One graduate, who wished to remain anonymous, refuted the parallel, calling it, “a ridiculous comparison” as “[rioting] is an outright crime”.
To St. Hilda’s psychology graduate Lexy Rose, however, “the only difference between the Bullingdon Club and the rioters is that they are wealthy. Their behaviour is the same”.