Should we really be OK with “never kiss a Tory”?

Political discourse is increasingly bitter and divided, let’s not infect our personal relationships with the same bitterness.

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In 2018, politics seems to divide us more than ever before. And increasingly it is seeping into our private lives.

A slogan that seems to epitomise the problem is the LGBT Labour slogan “never kissed a Tory”, recently shared by Momentum and commentator Owen Jones on Twitter. With an apparent right-wing backlash, Jones tweeted “Always amusing how the right accuses the left of being perpetually offended by everything, yet this light-hearted tweet by Momentum about kissing has left a load of right-wingers frothing at the mouth”.

But is “never kissed a Tory” really light-hearted?

The slogan can be traced back to 2008, perhaps a gentler political environment, as an idea to raise funds. The then LGBT Labour co-chair said at the time “It is more of an aspiration….it does not have to be true for you to buy the T-shirt!” . An instant success, the slogan has endured on stickers, mugs, totes, and t-shirts. If you’ve been to a Pride event this summer, no doubt you’ll have come across it. The Conservatives even came up with  counter slogans, first “Never Kissed A Tory” with the “kiss a Tory” highlighted, and then “I Kissed A Tory, And I Liked It!”.

The anti-Tory phrase’s original conception, and even it’s subsequent use by LGBT Labour, was often seen as fun, tongue-in-cheek. No one is actually saying you can’t kiss a Tory, right? As Jones said in his follow-up tweet “If you want to kiss Tories, Momentum are not going to stop you.”. However, in an increased divisive political climate, it’s taken on a more mean-hearted tone.

The phrase has been used outside the realm of just Labour politics too. A poster carrying the face of Sheffield’s young Green Party Lord Mayor, Magid Magid, issuing “Sheffield’s ten commandants” at the Tramlines festival included the commandment “Don’t kiss a Tory”. While he says it’s just a joke, it speaks to a wider issue around cross-party friendships, relationships, respecting, and understanding one another.

Laura Pidcock told Swawkbox last year that she had “no intention of being friends” with Tories, describing her “visceral” dislike of the Conservative “enemy”. Describing political opponents as enemies isn’t anything new and isn’t inherently bad. It’s of also true that politics can speak to someone’s values, ideals, and character. 

But that attitude puts politics above everything else. A party affiliation may speak to someone’s values but if your values only come from what membership card you carry or where you put your cross on the ballot paper that’s an issue with your own moral compass. Friendships, relationships, should come about organically. There’s no checklist on how well you get along with someone, no political compass-style site to find friends and partners.

It’s not just an issue that concerns politicos. A poll by YouGov in 2016 found that nearly 30 per cent of the left-leaning public, and 20 per cent of the right, would be upset if their son or daughter married someone across the political divide, numbers that show us more intolerant of party differences than a famously polarised America.

I’m a Tory, but one of my closest friends worked on Corbyn’s leadership campaign. I even get along well with some hard-core socialists. You bet we debate politics, it’s fun to debate issues with people you consider friends. History is full of cross-party relationships. Enoch Powell and Tony Benn were notable friends. Bill Clinton’s chief strategist during the ’92 election James Carville dated and married Mary Matalin, deputy campaign manager for Bush’s re-election campaign. It’s about understanding why they hold their sincerely held beliefs and knowing the character and values of your friends. Knowing that even if you think they may be a little misguided, they’re not coming from a bad or malicious place.

Politics is more polarising than ever. Which is why the fun “never kissed a Tory” slogan becomes a bit of a drag. It’s why Magid’s Ten Commandments, with “Don’t kiss a Tory” just below “Don’t be a prick” grind some peoples gears. Already our political discourse is increasingly bitter and divided, let’s not infect our personal relationships with that same bitterness.