I kissed a Tory, and I liked it

Since 2008, LGBT Labour have proudly sported their Never Kissed a Tory (Never Will) t-shirts, especially at Pride events throughout the country. I’m sure LGBT Labour meant no considerable harm when they thought that segregation between who you can or should and can’t or shouldn’t kiss was written across their t-shirts. Oh, the irony. Perhaps the intention was only to poke fun at the Tories – but is such an act of immaturity really necessary? Pride marches throughout the UK have sprung up to celebrate diversity, sexual freedom and solidarity to all those who identify as LGBT. Being a member of the Labour party and gay, I can only say I’m hugely disappointed by LGBT Labour. They are, unfortunately, only one of many examples of organisations and individuals that seek to perpetuate tribalism and adversarial politics. I understand entirely that political parties need to carve out their unique identity, and that they seek to differentiate themselves by drawing out their differences. However, the tribalism that is so pervasive in British politics is hugely damaging and does a significant disservice to politics. Tribalism is damaging to politics in three main ways, which I want to briefly spell out.

First, tribalism prevents the inclusion of a variety of groups. One tribe, by definition, will exclude another. There is a danger that this is going too far. The red camp will choose policy (a), so by definition the blue camp must choose policy (z). The public must decide which policy to take and a compromise between different sets of policies is unthinkable. It explains why coalition government has had such a hard time in the UK; why a compromise has become a synonym for weakness; and a U-turn a deadly sin. This is why the Liberal Democrats have been ravaged by public opinion and David Cameron is seen as spineless. Look towards the continent, and such compromise is not only accepted, but commended because it means that policies are more thought through. I am not saying that every party must always compromise with other parties; nor that we should seek to compromise. But there is a strong danger that total, uncompromising political parties are committing suicide. Their inflexibility explains why they are in such strong decline. A more open political party is able to attract a more diverse set of opinions, possibly a greater range of members and allows the party to carefully craft more policies that will stand the test of time. This is because more people are able to debate the issues and can form their opinions through inter-subjective reasoning. This is a strong principle that goes back to John Stuart Mill – we can move beyond pushing ‘dead dogma’ towards proposing ‘living truths’. [2] This will also enhance the legitimacy of political parties. [3]

Second, tribalism turns politics into a Punch and Judy show. Politics is nothing more than a spectacle for the public, which is a major discredit to politics in general. The polarisation of adversarial politics can lead to the alienation of political parties, political issues, and politicians more generally. For example, why is it not possible to be Conservative and a feminist, as Louise Mensch believes? I agree in the sense that feminism can transcend political party boundaries. I watched with interest a Newsnight debate between Mensch and Laurie Penny to discuss feminism, and disappointed that Penny couldn’t accept that there are different perspectives within feminism. Indeed, when Mensch wanted to attack the BBC on its male:female ratio, Penny barely agreed with her – she just couldn’t face it. [4] The point is that tribalism prevents reform in a range of areas because political parties are not willing to cross their camps.

Third, and finally, tribalism – at its most ferocious – is full of hatred. At our Students’ Union alone, debate between different politicos is so intense at times that you’d think a fight would break out at any moment. Insults are hurled across the different political groups, which have left a range of people hurt – physically and emotionally. One horrific example is the website Is Margaret Thatcher Dead Yet? I find something like that quite sad, because I don’t think politicians – of almost whatever ideology – are evil. [5] I would never celebrate the death of a politician, nor would I want to see a politician dead (having said that, I do agree with the makers of the website that Thatcher’s funeral should not be a state funeral). Unfortunately, in so many areas of politics, hatred is pervasive. Is there really a need for David Cameron to call Ed Balls ‘a muttering idiot’? No – that kind of language is entirely uncalled for. Even more despicable is George Osborne’s homophobic slur against Chris Bryant. Why do it? It does a disservice to politics, although sadly a culture that shows no sign of letting go.

The ultimate consequence of all this is that it alienates the public from getting involved with politics. Without doubt, politics should be about passionate debate. It should instil the hearts and minds of people, to fight for what they believe in. Politics is about contestation, persuasion, rhetoric, truth-telling. Of course there is a danger that calling for an end to tribalism could, in that sense, depoliticise Westminster (more on that next week). That, by far, is not the aim. The aim, rather, is to restore the credibility of politics by making it a more nobler practice. That calls for fewer jibes, more inclusion and greater awareness of different points of view. It calls for debate and contestation; it does not call for brawls and a winner-takes-all-mentality.

So, to go full circle – I hope that LGBT Labour stop wearing the Never Kissed a Tory t-shirts. Because I kissed a Tory, and I liked it. And I will continue to like it for a range of soppy reasons I don’t think I need to go into.


[1] For example, see R. Behr’s account of coalition politics in his article in the New Statesman (04 June 2012), entitled ‘While Ed Miliband learns tennis, Cameron has been double-faulting’, p.13.

[2] J. S. Mill (2006 [1859]) On Liberty, London: Penguin Classics, p.42 – although the whole of Chapter II is excellent, let alone the book.

[3] On inter-subjective reasoning, see J. Habermas (1992) Between Facts and Norms, Cambridge: Polity Press.

[4] Just as a disclaimer, I have respect for Mensch in that interview only. On countless other occasions she toes the party line to such an excruciating extent that it makes my blood boil – from defending Jeremy Hunt to her appearances on Have I Got News For You.

[5] Exceptions, of course, exist. *cough* BNP *cough* Nick Griffin.


One thought on “I kissed a Tory, and I liked it

  1. Pingback: You party if you want to; this lad’s not for partying | Colours on the Mast

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