BY JAMIE FOSTER
In the summer, newly elected Labour MP Laura Pidcock said, in an interview for the Labour-supporting propaganda website Squawkbox (they call it Skwawkbox), that she has no intention of making friends with any Tory MPs as they are the enemy. The MP Nadine Dorries criticised her juvenile attitude on Twitter. Another Labour MP, Mike Amesbury, has now also come out publicly to say that he couldn’t be friends with a Tory.
So, what do these two have in common? Both are Corbynites on the far left of the party. Both are new to parliament. Both have entered with the attitude that they are at war with MPs from an opposing party. Are they right or are they wrong?
In many ways they both appear to be a product of the new social media world view that Momentum and the Corbynites endorse. Theirs is a world in which there is only black and white. Right is on the side they stand for and there are no opinions that have any legitimacy other than the ones they hold. They are blinkered in every aspect of their outlook. Pidcock says that she could never be a friend to a Tory because they are the enemies of her constituents and can’t understand the suffering they are going through. She classes Tories in two groups. Those, who she thinks are like Boris who have never experienced hardship and can’t relate to it, and those who truly believe capitalism can help to alleviate suffering. Rather than seek to understand either of these positions she rejects both as having any legitimacy. Of course, we expect MPs to believe in their own political convictions, so what is the problem?
The real problem is that MPs are sent to parliament to represent their constituents by fully immersing themselves in parliamentary life and coming to rational conclusions based on consideration of the arguments they are exposed to. The job involves listening to people with different perspectives and making judgments about the best way forward. It is not like going to a football match where the opposing team and their supporters are the enemy. MPs represent people who didn’t vote for them and don’t hold their political views. Understanding that people can hold varying views and still demand respect is pivotal to the role of an MP. They are not merely cheerleaders for their leaders, willing to follow wherever they are called. They must work with people they disagree with in order to ensure that the best outcomes are achieved for all of their constituents.
MPs who can form friendships with people from opposing parties can recognise that we are all human beings who deserve consideration and respect. In a grown-up world we can disagree fundamentally with our friends without becoming enemies. Understanding, and even liking, one’s opponents helps us to understand our own positions and ensure that they are as strong as they should be. A fear of an opposing view is a fear that our own convictions are more vulnerable than we would like to let on. We need our MPs to be independent minded and sure of their own convictions. We do not need them to be sheep, led by groups that would manipulate them for their own ends. Corbyn promised a new, ‘kinder’ politics. His supporters have provided the opposite, a politics based on hatred and division. The fact that Pidcock and Amesbury seek to enhance their credentials with Momentum and Corbyn by expressing the view that the Tories are nothing more than enemies highlights this politics of division.
This divisive politics is the opposite of what is needed to help cure divisions in society. We expect our politicians to disagree robustly, but we also expect them to treat each other well. They act as an example to wider society of how we can get on despite our differences. Entering parliament with the attitude that other MPs are unworthy of friendship is a failure to uphold the trust that we place in parliamentarians. We need MPs to enter parliament with open hearts and minds, ready to find solutions to society’s problems, not to seek to exacerbate them. It is a sign of the point we have reached that there are seemingly no mature voices in the Labour party that can counsel new MPs like Pidcock and remind them they have a vital role to perform. The longer this politics of division goes on the worse it is for all concerned.