Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
23 November 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 5:04pm

I’m a Tory but my best friend is a Corbynite. So why’s it so hard for John McDonnell?

After all, Tony Benn was friends with Enoch Powell.

By Salman Anwar

On Wednesday, John McDonnell, asked if he could be friends with Tories, responded with, “No, I can’t forgive them for what they’ve done”. Although he was mostly talking about his Conservative colleagues in Parliament, comments like this dismiss large swathes of the country and helps increase the polarisation of our politics.

In some ways I slightly sympathise with McDonnell. He explained that he would work with Conservatives in parliament, but outlines clear political differences with them as the reason why he wouldn’t be friends with them. Political views and beliefs don’t define someone’s character, but they do explain some of their values. I’m not sure I could be friends with someone from the BNP, for example. I’m not quite sure they’d want to be friends with someone called Salman anyway.

While I’m not expecting McDonnell, or others in the Labour Party, to support Conservative policies – indeed, many Conservative MPs, such as Heidi Allen, often share concerns around issues such as Universal Credit – it’s hard to argue that the Conservative party is a party on the extreme political fringes. At last year’s general election, the party got over 40 per cent of the vote. By saying you can’t be friends with Conservatives, you’re in turn dismissing vast swathes of the country, by boiling down someone’s values down to policy decisions. This says that someone’s values only come from which way they vote, and puts their politics above everything else.

Most of my family vote Labour; one of my closest friends is a Corbyn super-fan. My opinion of Corbyn is that he’d be an unmitigated disaster for this country, that his brand of politics is dangerous for this country.

Yet, I still, shockingly, love my family. I’m still close friends with my Corbynite friends. You bet we debate issues when discussing politics. If I thought political views fully defined someone’s character, how could I have Labour friends, never mind still speaking to my family?

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The average person in the street isn’t obsessed with politics the way I am: I doubt many of them even know BBC Parliament exists. In that way, most don’t wear their politics on their sleeve. Even with Labour’s impressive membership figures, the majority of the public aren’t members of political parties, despite many being loyal voters for a particular party.

Content from our partners
How to navigate the modern cyber-threat landscape
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis
Data on cloud will change the way you interact with the government

So most people don’t use the way they vote as a flag bearer for their values. If people really thought the way they voted represented everything about their own morals and worth, I reckon you would find a lot more people willing to campaign on a wet Saturday morning. If people really thought that their own entire value system was reflected by political parties, I’m sure a party that received 43 per cent would be able to muster up a few more volunteers.

History is full of cross-party relationships. James Carville, Bill Clinton’s chief strategist during the 1992 election, dated and married Mary Matalin, deputy campaign manager for Bush’s re-election campaign. Enoch Powell and Tony Benn were notable friends. But Tony Benn didn’t agree with Powell’s views on immigration: in fact, he attacked Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech, saying, “The flag of racialism which has been hoisted in Wolverhampton is beginning to look like the one that fluttered 25 years ago over Dachau and Belsen”.

In August I wrote about how the tongue-in-cheek slogan “never kissed a Tory” may divide and polarise politics further. Rather than base your friendship on what way a person votes and extrapolate their entire character from that, society would be better served by basing our friendships on shared values and interests.