Somewhere in Central Office is a room. Its walls are lined with screens and its consoles are full of dials and rows of different coloured buttons like a serviceman’s medals. This is where they monitor The Heffer.

The Heffer is an old-fashioned nuclear-powered columnist. He is not much loved, loathed by many and, in truth, a little feared by most.   Less often seen on the roads these days,  there are still a handful of 2CVs and Volkswagen campers out there, bearing little yellow stickers saying “Simon Heffer no thanks” and while this may be a little too hippy for the boys and girls of Central Office, they share the sentiment in restrained lack of display

Of course, it would be simply wonderful if we could develop reliable alternative sources of political comment.  But the hillsides peppered with lanky Brogans or whirling Parrises is sadly neither attractive nor efficient. So we are stuck with The Heffer even though with age, and the gradual degradation of the bilium-90 that is its staple fuel, it grows ever more uncontainable.

This morning The Heffer went critical again. In the control station at CCO the caged light above the door came on, bathing the room in fearful red; a siren exploded in short piercing bursts and the dials started to whizz and the screens to fill with lines trending to danger.  There was no panic though and, indeed, not much action. These seasoned technicians have seen it all before; they know how to react.  For in truth there is very little that can be done. Just keep an eye on the gauges, note the latest trends, and wait for The Heffer to cool down again.

Someone will be called upon to investigate what caused the system failure this time.  It looks, partly at least, as if the injection of some nasty historical data into the guidance programming may have been to blame. “The Brown Terror”, writes The Heffer, “was as traumatic as it gets without loss of life”, damaging not just the “wallet” of the typical voter but also his “demeanour and psychology”.  Yes indeed: it is no coincidence that we have already had two rampaging lunatics loose with shotguns on the coalition’s watch, their demeanour and psychology having been so recklessly interfered with by quantitative easing and the complexities of the child tax credits scheme.

But there are also some more conventional explanations for The Heffer’s latest meltdown.  Always ready to be roused beyond boiling point by the coalition’s disparate evils, it has boiled this time in the face of fixed-term parliaments which we learn will “knock a cornerstone out of the British constitution and cause the rest of the system to crack”. Gosh really.  And worse is to come, for this degenerate political alliance stands ready (apparently) to pack the House of Lords with its lackeys so as to force through these very same fixed-term parliaments, as well as the AV voting system and other “constitutional abortions”.  It is a wonder really that the House of Lords still sits where it does. If it had been as stuffed full of placemen, and as often, as critics suggest in order to railroad otherwise untenable legislation it would long ago have needed to move to the O2 Arena.

In the control room they will have noted that there is some ostensible purpose to The Heffer’s ranting. It is to rouse the Tory right (or Right rather) to rebellion. The Right, it says, should be prepared to “resort to ruthlessness”.  This, disappointingly, falls short of a call to slit the throats of junior ministers in their beds, but it might instead involve voting against constitutional reform in the House of Commons. Such a move, The Heffer imagines, could lead to the Liberal Democrats deserting the coalition.  There are, it adds darkly  “important calculations to be made over the next few weeks”.

By this The Heffer means calculations performed by people in an alliance of the left and the Right that they could bring the coalition down. It is more likely, however, back in the Central Office control room, that they are calculating that this sort of arrant nonsense is heard by few and listened to by nobody. The Heffer is not only capricious, but obsolete as well.


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