Many people naturally assume that the final round of the Tory party leadership is between David Davis and Dave Cameron. They are seen together on the hustings, smiling at each other through gritted teeth. They take part in debates. They talk about their underwear. And on 6 December one of them — very probably Dave rather than David — will be declared leader of the world’s most successful political party.
Yet in a parallel universe there is another contest that is more bitter and, in its own way, far more real. Were these two gentlemen to meet in the same room there might be terrible growlings and baring of fangs. One is a journalist who may justifiably claim to have set Dave Cameron on his path to greatness. The other is a journalist who is doing everything in his power to ensure that he does not get there. Both will be familiar to readers of this magazine. I am speaking of Bruce Anderson and Simon Heffer.
The amateur naturalist unfamiliar with the Tory jungle might assume that these beasts are members of two closely related species. There are, indeed, many resemblances. They share a common habitat of London clubs: Anderson at the Travellers’, Heffer at the Garrick, and both at the Beefsteak. They love lunches, at which Anderson is capable of putting away industrial quantities of alcohol. Both are large, fearsome-looking creatures, though Heffer, who seems to have been zipped into a three-piece pin-striped suit at birth, is of a sleeker variety. In post-prandial mood, Anderson is possibly the rudest man I have ever met, though his bark is worse than his bite, and he undoubtedly wants to be loved. Heffer, who apparently exhibits no such frailties, can also be fantastically rude: at one lunch at which I was present he laid into Ed Balls, then Gordon Brown’s right-hand man, and verbally biffed the Chancellor before leaving early. But his preferred form of rudeness is to smoulder silently in a Ted Heath-like way, as though there were no point in engaging with lesser mortals.
There are other similarities. The Scots-born Anderson and the Essex boy Heffer could be described as outsiders who yearn, despite their highly individual features, to be a member of a pack — though different ones. They are both extremely well-read, and have artistic interests that might not be easily suspected. However much they may crash about the jungle, each is perhaps an aesthete crying out for recognition. In the more brutish world in which they operate, they express great hatreds — Anderson more in person than in print — and the greatest hatred they have is for each other.
For, despite their many common features, they have profound intellectual and psychological differences. Anderson is a Eurosceptic and a Unionist but above all a Tory. Do not mistake him for an ideologue. A former Marxist who took part in the civil rights marches in Northern Ireland in 1968, he believes, like Lenin, in the supremacy of the party. He can claim the distinction of having identified John Major as a future Tory leader as far back as 1987. When William Hague was Welsh secretary, he was picked out by Anderson for greatness. More than two years ago, in this magazine, he prophesied that David Cameron would lead the Tories. He understands the party as a great lover understands women. His inclination is to be loyal, and once he had fixed on John Major he stayed with him to the bitter end. He is very rarely at odds with the party leadership, and so it was a shock when earlier this year he pronounced in his column in the Independent that David Davis (against whom he has some ancient grudge) was not prime-ministerial material. Bruce’s critics marvelled that he could have crossed the future leader, but in fact he had already identified, and was advising, David Cameron.
Simon Heffer, by contrast, is not a party man, which is one reason Bruce Anderson does not like him. For Heffer, the Tory party ceased to be an institution worthy of his respect when it jettisoned Margaret Thatcher. Margaret will always be the Queen over the water. John Major’s only merit was that he was not Michael Heseltine, and Heffer soon came to despise him. When Major invited a leadership contest in 1995, Heffer supported John Redwood, whom he continues to admire. Since then no Tory party leader has won his confidence. In his Daily Mail column, which he wrote for ten years until a few weeks ago, Heffer often berated the Tories as exceptionally useless and, until it crashed and burned, he was at least privately drawn to Ukip. He is a type of person unusual on the British Right: the driven ideologue who constantly despairs of the inadequacies of pygmy politicians.
Heffer recently joined the Daily Telegraph from the Daily Mail, where as a parting shot he did what he could to injure the prospects of David Cameron. Cameron is everything Heffer hates. Where Anderson sees a gifted and decent politician who can lead the Tories back to power, Heffer sees a slick and possibly amoral chancer who believes in very little, and certainly does not share many, if any, of his own views. In a recent column Heffer described Cameron as a ‘PR spiv’. For their part, the Cameroons have picked on Heffer as their ‘Clause 4 moment’, and Cameron has even written an article in the Telegraph (no doubt with Michael Gove by his side) attacking him. This Heffer will have enjoyed. For the moment he wields far more power at the Telegraph than he ever had at the Mail, and has formed a perhaps unlikely alliance with Guy Black, Michael Howard’s former spin doctor and the Telegraph Group’s new director for corporate affairs, in opposing the claims of David Cameron. A pro-Cameron editorial was written last week but, at the time of writing, still has not appeared. If the Daily Telegraph does not come out for Cameron, which its editor, Martin Newland, and most senior editorial staff would like to do, it will be a great victory for Simon Heffer.
In a strange way our two heroes are both enjoying a high-water mark in their careers. Bruce has identified the next Tory leader, and takes calls from him on his mobile phone. He is back where he most wants to be. The party he has served above any cause — certainly above journalism, which is no more than a means to an end — may achieve power again. His column in the leftish Independent may be unread by Tories (in a narrow sense Bruce packs less punch as a journalist than Simon Heffer, and is certainly much less well remunerated) but he counts behind the scenes. Surely David Cameron will continue to be grateful, and not play Hal.
And Simon Heffer is also where he wants to be — in eternal opposition to the Tories and whoever leads them. He is more interested in creating a journalistic whirlwind than in his influence within the party hierarchy, though he may dream of a new Margaret Thatcher. But would even that do? Better to remain endlessly turbulent. Yet there must be a danger, both to his reputation among readers and to his standing on his newspaper, in casting himself in eternal opposition to a man who may be the next Tory prime minister of Great Britain.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated November 19, 2005