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Yes, it's okay to have friends who are Tories

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A Labour MP set the internet alight last week when she declared that she wouldn’t have Conservatives as friends because they were, in her view, ‘the enemy.’

Laura Pidcock was elected as the member of parliament for North West Durham in June and has already been awarded a reputation by the press as a left-wing firebrand.

The comments regarding her relationship with supporters of ‘the enemy’ came from an interview she did with a left-wing blog, The Skawkbox, which styles itself as equally radical and edgy.

Although the interview was generally very soft, Pidcock came across well, showing a clear commitment to her constituency as well as wider problems, such as the mental health crisis and the shortcomings of foreign aid. She also talked about Westminster’s intimidating and archaic nature, although it is hardly an original observation for a new MP.

The controversy arose from her answer to a question about her opponents, the dreaded Tories. Her definition of the governing party seems rather narrow, Pidcock arguing that there are only two types – the high-profile, privileged twats such as Boris Johnson, and the ideologues who are blind to the problems of their constituents.

She then mentioned a rather weird incident in which ‘a couple of Tories’ (because they always hunt in pairs) tried desperately to ‘show how nice they were,’ like nervous courtiers trying to please a bad-tempered king.

But for all their attempts to bridge the political divide, Pidcock remained firm.

'Whatever type they are, I have absolutely no intention of being friends with any of them,’ she said. ‘I have friends I choose to spend time with. I go to parliament to be a mouthpiece for my constituents and class – I’m not interested in chatting on.'

In one sense she is perfectly right to be disgusted at a party which threw away an election once believed to be unlosable, undermining their ability to deliver Brexit, in one of the most complicated narratives in British history. And recognising when something is truly an ‘enemy,’ and accepting it must be defeated, is an important skill in politics.

But where Pidcock fell down was in her inability to distinguish between the Conservative Party and its supporters. Those who vote for Theresa May and her ilk do so for a wide variety of reasons, some of them more wholesome and selfless than others, and they are not necessarily to be blamed when their party screws up.

Her definition of the two types of Tory is also very poor. Off the top of my head, I can think of one such Conservative MP, Anna Soubry, who is neither from a privileged background or particularly ideological, but is instead a mild-mannered and practical public servant who has no qualms about making alliances across the political divide.

Politics is so much a race to the bottom. The most shallow and cynical people often tend to triumph, but believing that someone like Boris Johnson is representative of every Tory voter will not help you in trying to get into government.

The controversy extended when the politics blog Guido Fawkes revealed one of Pidcock’s staffers had celebrated the death of Margaret Thatcher.

‘I can understand, and would never condemn people, for celebrating the end,’ tweeted Ben Sellers on 8 April 2013. ‘Tonight, I’ll get a carry out.’ This is in fact fairly mild – I knew people in my native Glasgow who threw five-day raves upon learning of the death of the former Prime Minister.

Sellers is perfectly entitled to devour a load of alcohol if he thinks that’s an appropriate way to mourn the passing of what was then a frail old lady. And there are indeed a few people in the world whose deaths have or will be a cause for celebration, but Thatcher, for all her faults, was not one of them.

I sometimes think this concept of viewing your opponents as diseased untouchables is a new phenomenon, arriving in the last few years as the national debate has become more trenchant and vituperative. Yet people have been wearing ‘never kissed a Tory’ badges for at least three decades.

Whichever it is, we have to grow out of it. Judging someone entirely by their political views is extremely narrow-minded, not to say self-centred. What if Pidcock were to find out a close friend of hers is a closet Tory, or does she vet them all before she starts seeing them socially?

As I said, recognising an opponent is important in politics, as is a bit of fanaticism. It allows you to continue to fight on issues about which most people will quickly stop caring.

But assessing someone solely by their politics is the sign of fanaticism that has degraded into lunacy. Pidcock needs only to look at her own leader, a man so fanatical that he broke up his first marriage due to a disagreement with his wife about where to school their children, to see where this can lead.

Pidcock represents a safe Labour seat so does not have to worry about alienating a few Tories. But if she wants a Labour government to confront the issues about which she genuinely cares, a more ecumenical approach might be wise. By no means do you need to kiss someone to win their support.

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