The importance of defying party politics

26 Aug 2017

It seems odd, given the stresses our country has been forced through of late, that any MP should doubt the enormous benefit and importance of crossing party lines.

 

It may be something of a surprise to Laura Pidcock, who confessed in a recent interview that she has no interest in working with Conservative colleagues, but she will not burst into flames should she move even an inch towards government benches. Unless the red rosette she wears is so large that it restricts her movement, actively seeking out common ground with those she disagrees with should not be an impossible task. She may even wear a mask of some kind if she harbours such fear of contamination.

 

One needs only to glance at the past, recent or otherwise, to understand the enormous benefit of forming cross-party alliances. There are some issues, shockingly, that demand attention from those of all affiliations and persuasions. No sensible MP sees enemies when they look to the benches opposite them, but colleagues. I would not insist any of them send a Christmas card every year, or name their firstborn after them, but to seek out shared passions should be an impulse natural to any adult.

 

Two men who would strongly reject any notion of spurning colleagues of rival parties now stand amongst Britain’s finest leaders. Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee were remarkably productive associates. The government they led (yes, together) steered the nation through a world war. Perhaps my knowledge of the subject is fairly rusty, but I do not recall Attlee holding a crucifix to Churchill whenever they spoke. I cannot imagine seats at that all-important War Cabinet, comprised of men both Labour and Conservative, were set metres apart from one another. If the cooperation between two of Britain’s finest leaders is not example enough for political tribalists, perhaps they ought to seek out more recent demonstrations of cross-party collaboration.

 

As blissful as it might be to forget Brexit, the referendum from which it crawled should be reasonably fresh in the minds of most. It should therefore be easily remembered that neither Leave nor Remain belonged to any one party. As someone who supported the latter, campaigning in a fashion even vaguely efficient would have been near impossible without the cross-party network we built. David Cameron stood alongside Sadiq Khan on one occasion, and Tim Farron on another. I, a person so indescribably Tory that I keep a framed photo of Margaret Thatcher on my desk, even found it within myself to befriend dyed-in-the-wool socialists for the sake of our common cause.

 

 

If the unwavering devotion between myself and my referendum ‘comrades’ does little to prove to you the rewards of non-partisan activism, I recommend googling for pictures of staunch Brexiteers Kate Hoey, of Labour, and Nigel Farage, of UKIP. The grins they bear may serve as a somewhat unsettling reminder that party lines are not wholly restricting.

 

Whilst much of the referendum may have been marred by bitterness and an amount of prevarication outrageous by even political standards, there were words fortunate enough to avoid red buses or dodgy Treasury dossiers.

 

Murdered MP Jo Cox taught us, when we needed the lesson most, that we’ve “more in common with each other than things that divide us”. The weight of those words, spoken in a maiden speech that ought to be mandatory viewing for all hopeful politicians, was made most apparent to me when I saw my own MP, every bit a Tory, weep for Jo and tell the gathering to which I belonged that he would very much miss working with her. Refugees had been the ‘thing’ they had in common. Both were no doubt aware of the positions their respective parties held on refugees, but neither wore those positions as binds.

 

We have as a country sought to immortalise the words of Jo Cox, and rightly so. To allow the viewing of political opponents as ‘enemies’ to fester would be an insult to the unity she represented.

 

David Cameron and Nick Clegg, who held together a five-year coalition so that Britain might survive one of its greatest economic crises, once appeared so close it was joked that they were married. Republican George W Bush reportedly calls Democrat Bill Clinton, who beat Bush’s father in the 1992 presidential election, his “brother from another mother”. George Osborne once served as babysitter to a son of Ed Balls, the former Chancellor and his shadow having thrown many a sharp barb at one another.

 

To see any two politicians agree entirely would be a feat most stunning. But that does not mean cooperation is impossible. Laura Pidcock may not have to babysit the child of any of her dreaded Tory colleagues, but to act on shared concerns would be most beneficial to her.

 

Admittedly, most parliamentary votes will be divided very much by labels of government or opposition. A Labour politician seeking alliances with their Conservative counterparts on the merits of nationalisation would be a monstrous waste of time. An alliance on a cause that stands beyond party politics, whether it be LGBT+ rights or military intervention, might be a more sensible use of time.

 

The Guardian, in peak form, recently asked if it was 'okay to be friends with a Tory'. I do not need another thousand words to give you the answer. Brexit disputes, recent terrorist attacks and prolonged fears over equal rights in the and beyond have left me weary. Politics risks becoming too depressing a thing for binary divides between those to which we are loyal and those against which we stand, for ‘us vs them’.

 

For every embittered Corbynite or die-hard Europhile who denounces me as ‘Tory scum’ worthy only of immediate evisceration, there are five more who approach with kindness. The idea of some things, the “things” for which Jo Cox urged us to unite, existing beyond realms of ‘leftie tosser’ and ‘Thatcherite bastard’ should be easy to comprehend for anyone possessing even an ounce of maturity.

 

I do not call for the erasure of party lines. For those of us not yet holy enough for the admirable plains of political indifference, it feels very good indeed to bear a poster or banner bearing a party logo. Indeed, I often cradle my commemorative Copeland by-election mug as though it were the Holy Grail.

 

Yet I also treasure the photographs I have of my tired, weather-beaten self smiling alongside Remain-supporting companions whom I would in an election be campaigning against. I value any discussion I might have with peers that ends in general agreement. Before trading in my existence as a Blairite for the dark side, I attended an event at which I applauded Jeremy Corbyn. Many of his speeches leave me with a lingering desire to break things, but there are statements made for which I would applaud him again. Doing so might cause my Tory membership card to curl at its edges, but sometimes it is necessary.

 

Working with those you disagree with may not be easy, but it is certainly worth it.

 

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