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?
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.
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.