The Real Reason Tories Are So Furious with Labour's Laura Pidcock

It's not just because she doesn't want to be friends with them.
08 September 2017, 10:10am
Laura Pidcock, Source: UK Parliament

People are, somehow, still furious at Laura Pidcock. It's been nearly two weeks since Daniel Finkelstein in the Times bleated in horror that the sheer intolerance of the newly elected Labour MP for North West Durham would end up once again ushering in the Stasi, the Gulag, the invasion of Czechoslovakia and (probably) the cold lonely death of Laika the dog, drifting through the void a million miles away from the nearest sniffing snout and friendly lolling tongue.

A few days later, Dan Hodges in the Mail raged against the "hate, division, conflict" she promotes: Pidcock is barely even human; she's a "White Walker", a deathly evil that can't ever be bargained with, surging out from the world of awkward TV allegory with her mission "to keep hate alive". Over at the Telegraph, Michael Deacon puffed and bloated and smarmed, piling up flatulently effusive prose. And on, and on, and on. It's easy to see why they're not giving up. For a whole generation of middle-aged Tories – the stale doughball-men, wafting themselves in second-hand outrage – being poutingly furious at Laura Pidcock is the new favourite game.

But why Pidcock? It's not just that she's a 29-year-old woman in politics, or that she's a trade unionist, or that she's unashamedly left-wing, feminist and working class, or that she's an intimidatingly talented orator – although none of that helps. She broke the code. In an interview with Skwawkbox, a few months into her Parliamentary career, she said of her Tory colleagues that "whatever type they are, I have absolutely no intention of being friends with any of them. 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." Tories are the enemy. "The idea that they're not the enemy is simply delusional when you see the effect they have on people – a nation where lots of people live in a constant state of fear whether they even have enough to eat."

How dare she?

There's something profoundly embarrassing about the sudden and unending stampede of outrage that came in response to Pidcock's comments. The Guardian asking whether it's OK to be friends with a Tory might be silly, but it's far sillier to insist that you should have to be friends with one. A wailing chorus of distinctly unlovable MPs and columnists: why don't you want to be friends with me? They thrust their gruesome Tory bodies with their pointed grunting self-satisfied Tory faces and their scrabbling grasping Tory hands, blood under their fingernails and a thousand years of brute privilege swimming hazily in their eyes, in her direction.

You have to love this, you have to be friends with me, or you're a hate-filled extremist. You have to forgive us every awful thing we've ever done, and chat happily with us as if we're not still currently rampaging across a brutalised country, or you're intolerant. You're an MP now, you're in the club, and these are the rules. It's strange: the response to the accusation that Westminster politics is an awful chummy little den – inhabited by glib careerists who don't really care about the people they represent – is to whine that Laura Pidcock refuses to be properly chummy.

But it's also very revealing. You get the sense that what these people object to most of all isn't that Laura Pidcock doesn't want to be their friend. It's that she dared to describe them as foes.

It's revealing, because it shows what Finkelstein, and Hodges, and Deacon, and the Tory benches – and all the rest of them – think politics is. It's not supposed to be about ideologies or competing interests in society; it's meant to be about worthy and honourable MPs getting together to work through their different policies for how the bins should be collected and which foreign countries we should invade, all of it in the national interest. The basic social structure of the country is set down forever and can't be changed: politics is there to introduce various little tweaks. In this kind of setup you're not meant to have enemies; after all, we're all in it together. And while the policies the Tory party goes for tend to enrich the already rich and immiserate the poor, that doesn't justify a word as vicious and exclusionary as enemy. It's not fair to say, even in the light of all the evidence, that the political class are on one side or another: there's simply no alternative, that's all, and there never will be one.

This simply isn't how politics works. Politicians all getting along doesn't mean that all our social problems are over; if they're chummily united, it tends to mean that they're all standing together against everyone else. But more than that, it's the opposite of anything that could be called political.

Not to get too uni essay about all this, but the German theorist Carl Schmitt (himself very much a creature of the right – he remained a member of the Nazi party until 1945) famously wrote in The Concept of the Political that "the specific political distinction […] is that between friend and enemy", and that any political theory – he gives the examples of Hobbes and Marx, among others – will have to be based on that distinction. In the same text, he considers the kind of behaviour that the Pidcock-whiners exemplify, the attempt to go past the friend-enemy distinction, and concludes that it's always only a trick. When a participant in a war denies that they're simply one enemy fighting another, and claims to be fighting on behalf of humanity in general (and think about all the clucking about decency in the British press this month), this equates to "denying the enemy the quality of being human and declaring him to be an outlaw of humanity; and a war can thereby be driven to the most extreme inhumanity".

Politics always directs itself against an enemy; if it refuses to do that, the result isn't a politics that's more decent and gracious and constructive, but one that's far worse. The enemy doesn't even deserve to be given that name: they're a nothing, an excremental blot to be scratched out, a thing deserving utter horror and repulsion.

You can see exactly this tendency in the fury against Pidcock. People who are aghast at the very idea of people with differing views not liking each other suddenly feel that they can utterly despise her – because she doesn't agree with them. They don't see any hypocrisy. How dare you not like us; we hate you. For Hodges, she and the rest of the Corbynite movement can be safely disparaged as somehow not fully human: she becomes a kind of super-enemy, cast out of the respectable sphere of Westminster chortling, exiled to the political wilderness; you can hate her as much as you like. It's strange: the people who insist that political discussion should be friendly and polite and genteel are always the most vicious and unpleasant whenever they come across anyone who violates that rule. Laura Pidcock, for them, is the worst enemy of all, because she violated the idea that they don't have any enemies.