Saturday, 19 November 2011

The real reason Simon Heffer resigned from (was fired by) the Telegraph

When Craig Brown – along with many others - was fired by the Telegraph three years ago he claimed that the paper would continue to print his satirical “Simon Heffer” column. Well, that quip made me laugh. There’s something about Heffer’s splenetic High Tory clubman style that invites parody.

 Oddly enough, Heffer’s contributions to the Telegraph started to go off the boil as soon as Craig Brown had been defenestrated. When another, less amusing Brown was given the boot by the British people last year, Heffer’s decline accelerated. His sheer disgust with the Coalition added an increasingly sour tone to his fulminations, exacerbated by his naked contempt, bordering on hatred, for David Cameron – an attitude which had already led him to vote UKIP at the 2010 election.

I share Heffer’s contempt for the liberal democrat who leads the Government, and I certainly intend to vote UKIP next time round (I have ordered a double-breasted blazer in the wrong shade of blue and am developing a slightly downmarket businessman’s nasal twang in which to deliver lines such as “Sit ye down, you old rogue!”, “A schooner of sherry, mein host!” and “If you can’t be good, be careful – that’s my motto!” so that I’ll fit in). I rarely found anything to disagree with in Heffer’s writings. And I share his regard for Ralph Vaughan Williams and Enoch Powell. But, by the end of his tenure, I began to suspect that (as F.R. Leavis accused C.P. Snow of doing) he was feeding subject headings into a computer, which would instantly spew out his latest column.

When Heffer left the Telegraph in May, it was widely assumed he’d been sacked: at the very least, there appears to have been no attempt to persuade him to stay. It was also assumed that his relentless pounding of Cameron had led to his dismissal. But, if that was the case, what can explain the paper’s willingness to let Heffer’s Saturday column successor – Blogs Editor, Damian Thompson – write this sort of stuff (full version here):

Dave… is quite capable of forgetting to thank someone inconsequential who’s spent the day driving him around. In this respect, he’s more the heir to Brown than to Blair. It’s a telling fact that Tony Blair needed to employ snakes and bullies to do his dirty work. Cameron doesn’t. Ask anyone who encountered him when he ran PR for Carlton: he was Flashman crossed with Mandelson.
 Cameron reminds me so much of certain Etonians I’ve met over the years. The moment they lost the upper hand in conversation, there would be a sudden pulling of rank, a deliberate glazing of the eyes, or a neatly aimed belittling joke of the sort that Dave employs at PMQs. As I say, these weren’t typical OEs: what marked them out was that going to Eton was the defining experience of their lives.
 Strange as it may seem, that’s true of our Prime Minister. Perhaps if he’d been elected to Pop, the elite club of Eton prefects to which Boris belonged, he’d be less aggressively snobbish. Then again, perhaps he would have been elected if he’d been nicer in the first place.
That’s Damian off the No 10 Christmas Card list, then.

When Heffer waddled out of the Telegraph, he claimed it was to concentrate on writing books. True, to an extent – but in that case, why has he resurfaced producing more journalism than ever at the Daily Mail and, in addition, taking on a job as editor of RightMinds, the Mail’s attempt to catch up with the Guardian and the Telegraph on the blogging/interactive front? The Mail certainly needed to do something: its first stab at getting all with-it blogwise was pathetic. This iteration isn’t too bad – there’s certainly a plethora of eminent right-wing thunderers in evidence, as you'd expect  – but, unlike Telegraph Blogs and the Guardian’s "Comment is Free" section, the Mail's me-too service hasn’t yet cohered into an online community: the lay-out is too formal, too print-like, and there's as yet little evidence of any genuine interplay between readers and writers. Despite all his talk about this being “the future”, I’m not sure Heffer’s quite at home in this rather rackety milieu. But, because I’m a long-term admirer, I hope his new venture is a success.

Which still begs the question – why did the Telegraph (where Heffer never blogged) dispense with his services, given that his successor appears to loathe Cameron just as vehemently? Could it have been Heffer’s rejection of the Conservative Party – rather than that of its leader - that sealed his fate? I assume so: after all, it’s not known as the Torygraph for nothing.

If I were Damian Thompson, I wouldn't publicly declare an intention to not vote Tory at the next election.


  1. An excellent post. "You done well, my sahn!"

  2. Really interesting post, which we might discuss at the golf club over a couple of snifters if the Memsaab permits.

    Who knows what the Telegraph's political position is these days. It doesn't seem to fit the Torygraph label. I've read it only occasionally since I concluded that its pro-Blair leaning was influencing its line on big issues and its story selection. The answer to your puzzle might be that while it's acceptable to crticise Dave from the left, it's not from the right. So the blog editor's line that Dave's an old Etonian snob who's rude to his driver is fine, but Heffer's variations on the theme that Dave's a soft left Tory who's betrayed his Tory heritage are not.

  3. Why, thank you, Ginger! Are you, in fact, Simon Heffer commenting under a pseudonym? I only ask because I know you live in Essex, and it sounds as if you hail from that part of the country.