During the Conservative party leadership hustings in Yorkshire, Heck Food invited the two remaining candidates, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, to visit their factory just off the A1 north of Ripon.
Debbie Keeble, co-founder of the family firm, explained that as a company that exports to the EU and which has recruited 80 of its 140 workers from Eastern Europe, they wanted to know how Brexit would affect their business.
Boris Johnson duly turned up, posed for a few cheesy photographs with a garland of sausages around his neck and gave what the owners called “very vague” answers to their questions on trade tariffs.
All very reasonable, if unremarkable. Similar visits by politicians of all political hues take place to various businesses all the time, particularly when there is a campaign on.
In a sane world that would be that – but sadly we don’t live in normal times. Instead, in a scenario that has become depressingly familiar over recent years, the left wing outrage mob, virtual pitchforks and flaming torches at the ready, immediately assembled with the intention of damaging the company as much as they possibly could.
Gathering under the hashtag #BoycottHeck, they urged their fellow idiots on Twitter to shun Heck’s products and gloated that if successful they would close the company down.
I find this unfathomable. Normally reasonable people – they can’t all be certifiable lunatics, surely – are trying to destroy a small, family-owned firm and throw its largely immigrant workforce on the dole, all in the name of “social justice” and because it was visited by a politician whose views they don’t like. If that is not a working definition of insanity, I don’t know what is.
As it happens, I covered dozens of such factory visits by politicians when I was working as a reporter covering business and industry for various newspapers in the North and Midlands. They usually followed a similar pattern. The politician would roll up in a chauffeur-driven limo, don a hard hat and a hi-viz jacket and then pose for a series of cringe-worthy “photo ops”.
Here’s the politician in the driving seat of a fork-lift truck; here’s the politician wearing protective goggles operating a piece of machinery; here’s the politician eating a bacon sandwich with fellow workers in the staff canteen. You get the picture. The spin-doctors who devise these stunts believe that we all react by thinking “Gosh! He’s just like us – a real man of the people!” But in my experience ordinary voters are rarely so easily fooled.
What’s in it for the host business? Well, there’s a chance to ask pertinent questions of a powerful politician, although, as the owners of Heck discovered, you may not get a straight answer. And there’s a bit of free publicity. That’s it.
But back in those more sensible and less hysterical times no one would have suggested for a minute that, because a politician visited a business, the owners endorsed all his or her views.
And that is where we are at now. Apparently, if you think Boris is bad you must boycott Heck’s sausages because – er – he once visited the factory. Crazy.
In fact Heck’s managing director Andrew Keeble voted to Remain in the 2016 Referendum and the company has raised entirely legitimate concerns about the possible imposition of tariffs and the ending of freedom of movement. So the idea the owners are Boris cheerleaders is clearly complete nonsense.
Of course in 24 hours the outrage mob will find something else inconsequential to be furious about and will move on, but the damage to a small firm like Heck could be serious and long lasting.
Instead of trying to destroy Heck Food we should be celebrating its success. It is providing employment in the countryside where jobs are scarce and creating wealth and paying taxes that fund the public services we value. More power to their elbow.
I don’t think I have knowingly eaten a Heck’s sausage, but the next time I am in the supermarket I will be sure to throw a couple of packs into my trolley. If we all did that, it would be a small victory for common decency.