Ross Clark

What the Heck boycotters can learn from Boris Johnson

What the Heck boycotters can learn from Boris Johnson
Text settings

You can tell a lot about the Left simply by reading the list of subjects which are trending on Twitter. Top spot this afternoon goes to the hashtag #BoycottHeck. If you are wondering what that means, Heck is a family firm based in North Yorkshire which until the weekend ran a blameless business making gluten-free sausages. Besides its traditional pork sausages, it has also established a reputation for its vegetarian sausages – winning plaudits from a great number of warm-hearted, peace-loving people of the Left.

That was, however, until Boris Johnson passed by on the campaign trail for the Tory leadership contest, and posed for a photo opportunity in a Heck-branded apron with the company’s products. Cue a Twitterstorm, of which the following two – relatively mild – tweets give a flavour:

'I will #BoycottHeck anyone who supports a racist, arrogant, self-promoting, ruthless Trump loving arse hole deserves all they get. Hope Heck goes into liquidation now although feel sorry for the workers.'

'F*** my old boots, I used to enjoy a heck sausage, now you’ve let this prick into the factory and I’m sure he would have contaminated everything in sight. Not buying from you again!  #borisisawanker #boycottHeck'

It took me a little while to remember where I had last come across such an attitude – I had a friend at university whose family of Northern Irish Protestants insisted on driving 20 miles just so that they could avoid buying potatoes from a farm run by Catholics. Yes, a firm merely invites a Conservative politician onto its premises and it must somehow be wiped from the Earth. It's not even as if the company sees eye to eye with Boris. It turns out that two years ago it featured in a piece in the Guardian about businesses who were worried that Brexit might bring about a loss of eastern European labour. The co-owner of Heck, Debbie Keeble, was quoted as saying that eastern Europeans were filling vacancies which the firm had struggled to fill with locals.

What company, though, would not want to seize the opportunity for a little free PR when Boris was in the area, plus an invaluable chance to discuss its concerns with a powerful political leader? I don’t know the Keeble family but I suspect they would equally happily have entertained Jeremy Corbyn had he been passing – just as have numerous other companies over the past few years including Aston Martin, Michelin and Bombardier. Funny enough, I don’t recall a campaign to boycott any of those firms on the grounds that they were somehow legitimising Corbyn’s friendship with Hamas or promotion of the IRA.

The campaign to boycott Heck fits the pattern we have seen over and over again the past few years. The first instinct of many on the Left is no longer to argue with political opponents, but attempt to delegitimise them – to get them sacked or brand them with some emotive term such as ‘racist’ or ‘denier’, to try to ruin their business. Either you agree with us, goes the philosophy, or you do not deserve to be heard.

One reason I suspect that Boris will triumph in this election and may go on to be a very popular prime minister is that he stands for the very opposite. He is the last person who would try to silence his political opponents or boycott a person or a company because he disagreed with its politics. He manages to be what so many on the Left claim to be, but in which they fail so miserably in practice – inclusive.