My torrid trysts with Simon Heffer

Graham’s post below has had me thinking about my own long and illustrious career as a newspaper reader. Like Graham I’m not from a family of “quality” newspaper readers. Unlike Graham I’m from a household in which the newspaper of choice is, and remains to this day, the Daily Mail. Only this morning I suggested to my mother that, in offering a free Diana DVD to every reader as well of details on how to claim a free Royal Doulton Diana figurine worth up to £100, Saturday’s Mail was making some fairly clear and unambiguous assumptions about the sort of people they envisage their readers to be, and asking if that was the kind of company she wanted to be seen to be keeping. “You’re an Independent reader at heart, admit it”, I told her. She’ll crack eventually, I know she will.

But I digress. From being exposed on a regular basis to the Daily Mail I was able to enjoy the dubious privilege of experiencing the twilight years of the careers of both John Junor and George Gale. George Gale’s column used to boast the tagline “Cutting through the nonsense – the voice of common sense”, common sense apparently being indistinguishable from unexamined prejudice and loud, boorish assertion. John Junor on the other hand looked like this:

and expressed precisely those opinions and in precisely that manner that a glance at his picture would lead you expect, and used to insist on ending every column with a rhetorical question which if ever actually answered would always be done with a resounding “no”. Eg “is it not clearly the case that only by bringing back hanging can we make our streets safe again?”, or “isn’t it obvious that allowing so-called ‘gays’ to teach in our schools is a recipe for disaster?”. Immediately before the 1992 General Election I remember a column of his with the headline “Kinnock’s men couldn’t run a whelk stall. The last thing we should do is let them run Britain”, which suggested to me that if that was the case then surely the last thing we should do is let them run a whelk stall. In 1990 after Margaret Thatcher’s resignation his choice as her successor was, in all seriousness, and at the age of 78, Enoch Powell.

Since I left home my paper of choice has been the Guardian, the Independent, the Guardian again, the Telegraph and now the Times, with whom I’ve enjoyed a happy and loyal relationship for the last 4 or so years. But as Morgoth said in a comment on Graham’s post, the Times can be “a tad wishy-washy”. This isn’t necessarily a fault; in fact we could probably do with more wishi-washiness. There’s an article by Michael Portillo in the Times today about the Church of England, saying that it might be “wishy-washy and middle-of-the-road”, but that “Britain has benefited enormously from a weak clergy that has mainly remained aloft from politics”. Wishi-washiness is exactly what I want from religion, and mostly what I want from newspaper columnists, and this is exactly what the Times delivers: Matthew Parris, Andrew Sullivan, David Aaronovitch, Tim Hames, Stephen Pollard, all faultlessly reasonable and evenhanded and fair and so on. But every so often it’s not enough, and I need a fix of something stronger. So when, as I did yesterday, I happen upon a discarded Telegraph, I head straight for Simon Heffer. When I’m on a train and find a copy of the Mail it’s Richard Littlejohn I need. When I’ve read, and agreed with, and been grateful for every sagely chosen, restrained, thoughtful and well-argued word in an article by Matthew Parris, sometimes I need a hit of Littlejohn claiming, in the face of a total absence of any evidence whatsoever, that “anyone from anywhere in the world (can) turn up without any documents, claim ‘asylum’ and, within ten minutes, find themselves living in a council flat, on benefits”.

But I’ve realised that it’s like I’m having an affair. I trust David Aaronovitch, and I’m with him for the long haul, but sometimes only Littlejohn can provide the excitement I need. I respect Andrew Sullivan, and I’ll never leave him, but at the same time I have to have my illicit moments with Simon Heffer. Simon, you make me feel dirty, but somehow I like it.