Imagine being British Prime Minister David Cameron's public relations adviser. Conservative Party headquarters, central London. A foppish young man sits at a desk working on a press release headed "Queen could face firing squad if Corbyn becomes PM".
The phone rings. He answers with a breezy "Fourth Reich propaganda department".
"Crispin, this is Jasper at Number Ten. A word to the wise before we go any further: your sense of humour is going to land you in the mire one of these days."
"Chill, Jasper, it's just a bit of fun. It's not like anyone's going to take it seriously."
"You'd be surprised what people take seriously. Speaking of which, you're going to have to earn your keep this week. We have a situation, as they say."
"Excellent. Situations are our business. You know what they also say, Jasper: 'Never let a crisis go to waste'."
"I very much doubt 'they' had anything like this in mind. There's a book being published today which alleges that when he was at Oxford, the PM put his private parts in a dead pig's mouth."
There's a pregnant silence, followed by a nervous giggle. "I'm sorry Jasper, you'll have to repeat that. For a moment there I thought you said ... no, I won't say it. It's unspeakable. Not to mention utterly vile."
"What did you think I said?"
"No, honestly, I feel unclean just thinking about it."
"All right, if you insist: I thought you said there's a book coming out claiming the PM put Admiral Winky in a dead pig's mouth. You're probably thinking I need professional help but ..."
"Listen to me very carefully, Crispin. I didn't enjoy saying it the first time and I'm most certainly not saying it a third time: this book claims the PM inserted his privates into the mouth of a dead pig."
"No one in their right mind would believe that."
"Need I remind you the PM's an old Etonian?"
"Point taken. You said this is meant to have happened when the PM was at Oxford - in the days before everyone had a cellphone, in other words - so presumably there's no suggestion of photographic evidence?"
"Actually, there is. I take comfort in the thought that if anyone apart from the PM himself possessed such a photo, it would've found its way into the public domain by now."
"What's the PM saying?"
"Deal with it. You know how it works, Crispin: he tells me and now I'm telling you."
"Jasper, I need some context: how did this come about, according to the book? I mean, was it a dare? Did he trip?"
"It was supposedly an initiation rite for one of those debauched, upper-class secret societies."
"I see. And how did the pig come to be dead?"
"I mean, was it beheaded for the express purpose?"
"I think that rather goes without saying, don't you?"
"Yes, I suppose it does. Now Jasper, I hesitate to ask this question but in crisis management PR one has to know the full extent of the problem one's facing: what did Dave make of it all? Allegedly."
"Was he sick to his stomach, scarred for life or did he find the whole experience - how can I put this - rather gratifying?"
"You do understand, Crispin, that the moment I conclude you're not treating this with the utmost seriousness is the moment you become unemployed?"
"Look, I'm just trying to get my head around ..."
"The Prime Minister stands accused of necrophiliac bestiality. I would've thought the precise details were beyond irrelevant, wouldn't you? So how about you stop asking pointless questions and tell me how we're going to deal with this?"
"Well, not surprisingly there aren't too many precedents to draw on. In fact, the only one that comes to mind is Lyndon Johnson's smear campaign.
"When he was a young congressman, the future President found himself behind in the polls a few days out from election day.
"He instructed an aide to tell the press that his opponent had an unhealthy interest in farm animals, if you get my drift.
"The aide objected on the grounds it was an outrageous lie. 'I know,' said Johnson, 'but let's make him deny it.'"
"So your advice is ...?"
"Ignore it. Don't say or do anything to give the story legs or a skerrick of credibility. And whatever you do, don't let the PM go anywhere near a farm."