When a new MP arrives in Westminster he or she is usually keen to get themselves noticed. This is understandable – even commendable. Attention is a form of power, and power gives you the chance to influence policy. There are various ways this can be achieved. You can make a particularly striking maiden speech, like Mhairi Black, or else acquire a reputation for asking insightful Parliamentary questions. Or, alternatively, you can make a complete fool out of yourself. Laura Pidcock, the new Labour MP for North West Durham, has chosen this latter option.
New Labour MP Laura Pidcock
Speaking to Skwawkbox, the pro-Corbyn clickbait site which makes Breitbart look like an academic journal, Pidcock explained that she couldn’t have Conservative friends because she regards them as the ‘enemy’. She stated she has ‘absolutely no intention’ of becoming friends with ‘any of them’ [Tories] before describing her attitude as ‘visceral’. In a separate interview she said she wouldn’t ‘hang out with Tory women’ who are ‘no friends of mine’ and ‘an enemy to lots of women’.
But why does any of this matter? Surely conservatives like myself can get by without the obvious pleasures of Laura Pidcock’s friendship? Well yes, I’ll admit we probably can. But Pidcock’s position is far from an isolated one. There is a strong current within the British left which regards Conservatives not as mistaken but well intentioned opponents, but rather as moral flawed. At best we are self-interested fat cats if wealthy, or xenophobes if indisputably working-class.
Alternatively we are outright sadists who take pleasure in causing pain to others, more Tolkienesque villains than legitimate opponents. This latter point is scarcely an exaggeration. If the Treasury had a pound for every time a leftist told me the Government’s austerity program was motivated by malevolence rather than fiscal prudence, we’d no longer have a national debt.
I’ll admit I’m bias, but, in Britain at least, I think it’s very rare to find this level of hostility towards the left from the centre-right. It’s hard to imagine a Conservative MP categorically refusing to be friends with Labour supporters, or wearing a ‘Never kissed a Labourite’ t-shirt in the manner of Andy Burnham’s ‘Never kissed a Tory’ attire to 2015 London Pride. Conservatives don’t descend on Labour’s annual conference in their thousands to chant ‘socialist scum’ in the way that Tory conferences are always picketed by abusive (and sometimes violent) crowds from the hard-left. Centre-right political intolerance rarely moves beyond the realm of the anonymous internet troll.
Andy Burham, when he was still MP for Leigh, wearing a ‘Never Kissed A Tory’ t-shirt
There are I think two chief reasons why I think this attitude is deeply unhealthy. Firstly it makes cross party (or cross ideology) cooperation difficult. Longstanding Conservative supporter though I am I don’t believe the party has a monopoly on wisdom. I’d be a fool if I did. The Labour Party has had good ideas in the past (take its campaigns for women’s rights and against homophobia) and doubtless will do so again in the future. Several of the policies associated with the Conservatives, take academy schools and public-private partnerships in healthcare, were pioneered by New Labour. If you regard politics as a zero-sum battle between competitors, it’s much harder to share ideas and cooperate when appropriate.
Moreover if you don’t engage with your opponents it’s much easier to misread the political climate. To some extent of course we all live in bubbles. Brexit was a massive shock to many liberal Londoners surrounded by people who largely shared their views. Correspondingly few on the centre-right thought Corbyn would be anything other than a disaster, note the ‘Tories for Corbyn’ campaign, yet now he has a very real chance of becoming our next Prime Minister. Having friends from across the political spectrum helps us understand what other people are thinking, and what this means for the future direction of our politics.
A vandalised Conservative placard from the 2017 General Election.
So to the left-wingers of Britain I say this, go and get yourself a Conservative friend. We’re not all that bad. We just think that prosperity is better achieved by the free market than state control, and that certain norms and institutions are needed to maintain social cohesion (nation states, strong law enforcement etr). We don’t want to keep people poor, to the contrary, we believe capitalism is the best system to attain the wealth necessary to eliminate poverty (and we have plenty of circumstantial evidence that this is the case – just compare North and South Korea or East and West Germany). So drop us a line. We’ll try and be nice. We probably won’t even sell your organs. And if we really really like you we might even let you borrow our top hats.