Why The UK Must Move On From Tribalism

It’s midday, BBC News is blaring the churlish cacophony that rings around the House of Commons, signalling yet another pointless Wednesday lunch time in British democracy.

Theresa May and her government benches sit smugly and coax members opposite in to riposte, whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition rise to the bait with innovative disdain each and every time.

Looking on at this often familiarly pathetic scene, is it any wonder why the sentiment of separation from power has never been greater than it is now?

As the two major parties spit at each other from two sword lengths apart, ironically the equivalent distance between the London-centric constituencies of both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition, the rest of us roll our eyes at yet another fruitless hour spent on the juvenile one-upmanship that never ceases.

Why must we let this sideshow endure? The 2017 snap election was heralded as the return to two-party politics following what was an exceptionally brief detour. Yet, while between them, Labour and the Conservatives amassed over 80% of the popular vote, neither can command a majority in the House of Commons.

Both parties protest that they can lead the country forward through Brexit, the largest source of political turbulence since 1945 – but alas, only on their own rigid terms.

The Conservatives, bolstered by the runt of DUP parliamentarians say their minority government can deliver on Brexit – however between them, they only just squeak over the majority threshold that would allow them to get key legislation through.

In response, Labour say that they are a government in waiting, that if the Tories were to collapse, they, despite it being arithmetically unviable, would swoop in to save the day with a ‘jobs first’ Brexit – yet another slogan on an ever longer list of vapid platitudes.

Though, the obvious alternative never occurs to either of them – if they both care so much about a worthwhile Brexit, they could indeed collaborate. The Tory government could reach across the aisle and invite Labour to form a grand coalition that would herald in a new era of co-operative politics for the many and not the few.

Of course, they would never ever do that.

In countries like Germany, the Netherlands, and even Northern Ireland, the concept of a bi-partisan grand coalition is merely business as usual. It is not an idea to be scoffed at but a feasible legislative alternative. On the British mainland however, there is no such appetite for it – in fact, there is barely room among our political heavyweights for the most basic respect.

No party, not even the one I am a member of, has all the answers, all of them will get things right, and all of them will get things wrong. Though all of us know it, our unspoken procedures won’t tolerate this objective truth; in fact, members are expected to always present and front up as though their party, our own clans are omniscient and omnipotent.

That’s why when Labour rightly attacked the government for the charges applied to their Universal Credit phone helpline, Liz Truss could do little else but try and deflect the criticism rather than acknowledging an unequivocal wrong her party had overlooked.

In turn, it’s why Guardian columnist and Labour supporter Polly Toynbee can overlook her party’s deplorable legacy in Iraq but can’t stomach the concessions made by the Liberal Democrats’ in coalition.

It’s why nobody on the opposition benches can stomach the Conservatives’ success in reducing unemployment, why Tories can’t bring themselves to praise New Labour for minimum wage reform and why nobody will give credit to the Liberal Democrats for pushing through same-sex marriage. Simply, we won’t tolerate it.

It was once the case that this childish phenomenon was for the sole enjoyment of those in the Westminster bubble, but frighteningly it has transcended in to the attitudes and behaviours of their voting public too.

The left espouse a form of political veganism – they try, with all their might to monopolise morality, to present themselves as the sole custodians of all things righteous and virtuous. They knowingly misrepresent centrists as equally opposed to racism, as they are supportive of racists. And, in turn conflate any smidgen of right-wing thinking with fascism, no matter how removed from that it may be.

On the opposite flank, the right respond by weaponising patriotism, they promote themselves as the guardians of common sense and the purveyors of intelligence and sensibility – to them, the left are weak, they are ‘snowflakes’, and not worthy of listening to.

Last week, The Observer published an article on friendships in Parliament that cross party divides and in patches it was met with disdain. The sort of attitude that led to Laura Pidcock claiming she’ll never befriend the party opposite hers or the one that accommodates puerile slogans bragging about never kissing someone of an opposite persuasion.

When we close ourselves off from plurality in that way, we defeat ourselves. You can’t champion your ideas if you never have to defend them, you can’t convince someone your way is better if you want even deign yourself to be civil towards them.

Most of my friends, who are interested in politics disagree with me. Some are on the left, are ardent in their commitment to stronger welfare provisions and state-led protection of vulnerable groups. Some are on the right, they champion opportunity creation and deregulated markets – but none of them are bad people no matter how much they disagree with each other and myself.

Simply put, crossing a box once every five summers is not enough to write off a person as fundamentally bad.

These pious tribes we find ourselves in are sewing the seed of something very dark. The death of debate and critical engagement with ideas signals the death of democracy. With political culture as it is, we crawl ever closer to that precipice each day.

When it comes to the fight between liberals, social democrats and conservatives, politics is more a battle of ideas than it is morals. Few people in politics are truly reprehensible, nearly all of us are seeking to make things better – we are each other’s ideological opponents not enemies. We must critically engage and learn from one another, partisanship will tear us apart – it’s time to relieve it from office.