Friday, 25 August 2017

Friendships with the Enemy

It's good to see a new Labour MP making waves for the right reasons for a change. As readers well know, Laura Pidcock has raised a few establishment eyebrows since taking her seat in the House. Her maiden speech called out the clubby atmosphere and alienating pomp of the Commons, and rightly so. It's an affront to democracy. And this week she has earned the self-same elite's opprobrium for saying she has no intention of chumming up with members on the benches opposite. According to her interview on Refinery29, she wouldn't hang out with Tory women as they're "an enemy to lots of women". Even worse she elaborated on the theme on Skwawkbox.

To be honest, it's gratifying seeing people splutter and gibber in response. Because Laura has said an unsayable everyone knows is the truth. She is elected to do a job for her constituents, and she will in turns be attacked, blocked, and hampered by people who think poverty is the fault of poor people themselves, are happy seeing the health service fleeced by moneyed interests, and give more of a toss about the bongs of Elizabeth Tower than the lives destroyed by Grenfell tower. Because this is politics and basic honesty is absent from most criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership's supporters, Laura has been forced to clarify her statement. As was clear from the interview, she was referring to Tory politicians only and not constituents who didn't happen to vote for her. Her critics know it too.

What to make of Laura's position? In sociology there is a broad scholarship around friendship and how it is changing. For example, 20 years ago for most people in Britain friends were people they knew through co-present interaction. In 2017, there is a very good chance these are matched if not exceeded by a large number of friends you haven't met in the real world but who inhabit the digital spaces you frequent. Nevertheless the social consequences are unchanged. Friendship brings people into closer social proximity, and are founded on shared experiences and intimacies. They can be powerful social bonds that stretch across a life and can weather social difference and division. Small wonder Laura Pidcock wants to avoid friendship with Tories.

The pressure of and on the Commons combined with the somewhat unique situation of being a MP can lead some honourable members to earnestly believe they're all in it together. Given the proximity of the politics of a number of Labour and Tory MPs, some slip into it rather too easily and their party labels appear nothing more than a ticket affording them a seat on the green benches. Yet they are not. MPs from the two main parties sit there because their affiliations represent two irreconcilable coalitions of interests, though until recently it suited both to pretend class and class conflict didn't exist. A shame that the general election shattered such illusions. Labour's job then is to give expression to the interests that are finding their political feet through the party and, in turn, help recompose its constituency as a political movement. This requires a certain clarity regards what Labour is now and should be about, and notwithstanding the limits of Corbynist politics as a (radical) strand of top down, we'll-do-politics-for-you Labourism, that politicisation is an ongoing process. This is undoubtedly helped by Labour MPs stressing the political distance between themselves and the Tories. After all, a wider divide between the two only reflects what's happening in the real world.

Does this have to rule out personal friendships? Of course, no one is requesting the leader's office issue a diktat about who Labour MPs can and can't hang about with, but equally there's no mileage in supposing cross-party friendships do not have political consequences. For some Labour MPs just as the passage into the Commons and the trappings of office confirms in their minds their standing as someone who has made it, so can relationships with well heeled opposite numbers. It can be flattering that a member of the boss class condescends to speak with them, asks them out for a drink and, gasp, occasionally takes them into their confidence. We know from our every day relationships how taking mates to task or telling them they're wrong is tough. This is no different for MPs. In short, friendships with the enemy get in the way and make you less effective, a point so obvious I'm amazed these very basics of politics need spelling out.

That, however, does not mean rudeness. As per my unsolicited advice reworked after the Stoke by-election, defending and pushing the interests Labour MPs are in the House to champion does involve building relationships with the other side. Being pleasant and friendly, establishing working relationships over issues of common interest, collaborating where suitable on committees, letting your parliamentary researchers circulate and schmooze, all this is the hallmark of being an effective representative of our class. And all this, as Laura made perfectly clear, is what she is prepared to do. She does that and not the rest because she understands what she's in Parliament to do. She has a class analysis and an understanding of what it means. If people want to criticise her for it, that's up to them. But they do no favours for Parliament's image and politics' legitimacy by pretending it's a place where MPs from all sides have a great deal in common.


Shai Masot said...

Hug a Blairite.

Dialectician1 said...

Further evidence of the increasing visibility of class-based politics. The rupture in the neoliberal consensus is long past and no amount of centrist/ third way positioning by politicians is going to bury the everyday reality of class for most people. The Conservatives have always been about class because they unapologetically represent their class, although they like to wrap it up in the language of 'entrepreneurship' (just watch Evan Davis having organisms during a series of Dragons Den). Labour thought it had buried class in the 1990s and just needed to prove to the electorate it was better at managing capitalism than the Tories.

Laura Pidcock is part of a long line of real socialist Labour MPs (Skinner, Bevan etc) who rightly see the Conseveratives as close to vermin. She represents a new version of class politics which will emerge in Westminster in forthcoming elections. She is also from the North East, which has a deeply rooted hatred of Tories. They smashed up the mining communities in the 1980s and left the place desolate. Why would you want to befriend people who did that?

Up here in the North East a Tory is still a scoundrel. In a friendly race, a common refrain is: 'the last one there is a Tory!'

Anonymous said...

"In 2017, there is a very good chance these are matched if not exceeded by a large number of friends you haven't met in the real world but who inhabit the digital spaces you frequent."

so what do you do when you find out your best friend is a bot?

asquith said...

Surely fraternisation already happens, as in the case of Tony Benn and Enoch Powell uniting against the Common Market, and Comrade Corbyn aligning Labour to the Tory/UKIP position on Brexshit.

Alan Clark recalled the beginnings of this alliance:
"'The goal scorer' said [Dennis Skinner]. 'You scored one last night'.
'Not enough of us' I answered. In the tea room I said 'I'd rather live in a socialist Britain than one ruled by a lot of fucking foreigners.' He seemed surprised as well as pleased".

Will Laura Pidlock be resisting her leadership's campaign to the far-right nationalist agenda? I'll be waiting.

Joseph said...

I'm not sure if Evan Davies has "organisms" during Dragons Den, but his worship of rip-off artists dressed as "entrepreneurs" is so obvious that his programmes are nothing but right-wing propaganda!

Obviously there are issues over which some individuals from left and Right can agree and temporarily ally, but my view is that while you may be friends with the person, that should never be confused with being friends with their politics. You may also dislike someone as a person but agree with their politics.

David Lindsay said...

Laura Pidcock, we have always got on, and I am one of extremely few people in this constituency who already knew you when you were imposed as the Labour candidate. But I'm sorry, over half the County Councillors for North West Durham are not Labour, as are nearly half the members of Lanchester Parish Council, and you now live here in Lanchester. Unless I am very much mistaken, then your constituency office is in Consett North, which has not returned a Labour Councillor in quite some years. This is just not the kind of place where the MP can be politically sectarian and separatist.

And frankly, you might understand that a bit better if you had a Political Advisor from within the Constituency Labour Party. At least to balance the one, who is also an old friend of mine, whom you have appointed from within the wider Left. His advice is doubtless invaluable on national and international matters, but he has no prior connection to this constituency, and I believe that it is correct to say that he still does not live here.

Never mind the Blairites. If the rules really were changed so that reselection would kick in unless two thirds of the CLP voted otherwise, then you would be in more danger than anyone else in the entire Parliamentary Labour Party. I have no desire whatever to see someone from the horrific world of the municipal Labour Right in County Durham as my MP, or as anyone's MP. But think on.

Speedy said...

It strikes me as a little narcissistic. Is she more working class than Betty Boothroyd, Bernadette Devlin or even Margaret Thatcher? I looked at her wiki page and there was no mention of her actual background. Certainly, there have been women around for decades, and "working class" people too, although there may be more people from an actual "working class" background on the Tory benches these days? Didn't David Davis grow up on a council estate, and his dad wasn't a UN Secretary General....

I think there are interesting questions (which you often explore) about identity going on here. This is an individual who has never engaged in a working class profession - she has gone from "mental health support worker" to manager of an anti-racism charity in a couple of years, and has a degree. That sounds pretty middle class to me.

I was also amused by Jon Snow's seemingly personal revelation that the working class exist, following the Grenfell tragedy, and that class - economic and social power - supersedes the distraction of "diversity" beloved by the bourgeois left (personified by Snow himself) to "cover" their privilege.

The only war is class war, as they used to say. Before Laura Pidcock gets all high and mighty perhaps she might be advised to check her privilege. At least that is a phrase I am sure she would understand.

Phil said...

"she has gone from "mental health support worker" to manager of an anti-racism charity in a couple of years, and has a degree. That sounds pretty middle class to me."

That is pretty much par the course for many immaterial workers. Being a 'mental health support worker' is on a par with factory jobs of old, or call centre staff etc. today. Besides, it's not about identity, it's about interests and effective representation of those interests. As outlined above.

Ben Eskola said...

David Lindsay, you seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that Ms Pidcock has refused to work alongside Tory politicians or voters. This is simply not the case — in fact, this very blog post mentioned this clarification, leading me to wonder if you actually read the article before commenting to criticize.

North West Durham having Conservative councillors does not mean that Pidcock, or anyone else, needs to be friends with them. And not being friends with someone does not preclude working with them effectively. The relationship can, and should, be a professional one. I'd go so far as to say that friendships could risk undermining a professional relationship, even without a party divide. (Again, this is something suggested in this very article.)

To me, one interesting question would be: why has this particular statement gotten the attention it has? There's no outrage (from the centre or the right, at least), when Cameron calls Dennis Skinner a dinosaur, or more generally the namecalling and childishness that goes on in the chamber all the time. And, indeed, Jess Phillips was praised for telling Diane Abbott to "fuck off" over a criticism, or for threatening to stab Jeremy Corbyn. Where's the concern for friendship then? It doesn't seem unreasonable to suppose that the criticism is partisan in nature.