Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Return of the Heffer Error

A welcome re-appearance today to a phenomenon that has seemed to be in abeyance for a while – the Fundamental Heffer Error.  Danny Finkelstein defined it first as a confusion between believing a policy to be right and believing it popular but summed it up even better as confusing what he wishes were the case with what is actually the case.

This post isn’t actually about Simon Heffer at all, but showcases what I believe to be a perfect example of this latter characterisation.  It is reported today that Gordon Brown has decided that David Cameron is the weak link in the Conservative Party, and that a relentless attack on him is the best tactic for Labour to win the next election.

Mr Brown will also relentlessly attack Mr Cameron as a "do nothing" leader who has failed to outline a credible response to the downturn.  Labour's research suggests voters like Mr Cameron but remain less than convinced, with many suspecting he is a "phoney."  The Prime Minister and his allies will therefore launch sustained attacks on Mr Cameron, trying to suggest his charm is a front for an uncaring and incompetent Tory party.

Now, it is reasonably well-documented that Cameron and Brown detest each other.  Brown believes that Cameron is light-weight, opportunistic and shallow.  Cameron believes that Brown is obnoxious, misguided and petty.  But what each thinks of the other is not really what is at stake here.  Cameron is the most popular party leader.  More importantly, whenever Cameron receives more press coverage, support for the Tories rises – even if the coverage is negative as happened with the grammar school business.  Brown is confusing what he believes – that Cameron is a negative for the Tories – with what the evidence suggests – that Cameron is more popular than his own party.  Fundamental Heffer Error.

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