Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A fundamental Heffer error

The quite brilliant description by Danny Finkelstein of a "Fundamental Heffer error" as being where the author of such an error confuses what he wishes were the case, with what actually is the case has allowed me finally to understand Labour's tactics in the London Mayoral race. News from Guido that Boris Johnson is now the bookie's choice as favourite goes to confirm the polling that Boris is now in the box seat.
Yet Livingstone's, and Labour's, tactics have been bizarre in the extreme. First it was decided that he should be portrayed as a bigoted racist outlier on the hard Tory right, and a cosy arrangement was made with Compass to that effect. But the problem with this approach was that it was risible. It is possible to demonise a politician like, say, John Redwood or Norman Tebbit as being extremist and 'on the hard right' because, however unfair, it is plausible. Characterising Boris as an extremist just looked silly, and they were reduced to such absurdities as claiming that an opposition to the minimum wage renders him an extremist, or that his support for nuclear power makes him a Thatcherite. Livingstone and the left ran so hard on the 'Boris is a bigot' theme that they were left stranded upstream when its failure became apparent.
So they switched to plan B - OK, so Boris wasn't a dangerous racist who would introduce segregated schools (though Polly Toynbee was terrified about what Boris as Mayor might mean for the Tour de France) but he was a buffoon and a liar and a Bertie Wooster type ignoramus whose fundamental lack of seriousness would be a catastrophe for London anyway. Boris's reaction to Toynbee was suitably deflating: he texted a journalist saying She's got a crush on me... It's the only explanation. And I've always had a slight thing about her... He's gone a long way to rebut the buffoon jibe as well, with thought-out policies on transport and crime.
So Labour have been forced to change tack again, as they seemed to in the recent Labour conference, to get stuck into class warfare. Boris was condemned by the ridiculous Hazel Blears as a nasty rightwing elitist with odious views and criminal friends like Conrad Black. Pausing only to note that for any member of this Government to be casting aspersions about criminal friendships is a bit much, what with the sheer number of criminal investigations floating about, I would add that for it to be suggested that 'pitch defiles' in this mayoral election, when Livingstone's closest aide has resigned over claims that he channelled £100,000 of taxpayers’ money to projects run by a woman he bombarded with sexually charged e-mails is to be quite astonishingly hypocritical.
But for the reason for all this confusion we have to go back to our friend Simon Heffer. Labour persuaded themselves very early that there could be absolutely no way anyone could seriously consider voting for Boris. They themselves believed so absolutely that he was a right-wing caricature that they felt all they had to do was broadcast this widely for it to be accepted. The subsequent shambles has been because they still haven't accepted that merely wishing something were true is not enough to make it true.

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