A Gaby Hinsliff article in today’s Observer lists a number of supposedly-unlikely parliamentary ‘odd couples’ under the emetic title:
The piece amounts to little more than a barely-veiled attack on Labour MP Laura Pidcock, who shook the Establishment with her SKWAWKBOX interview in August, in which she expressed her hatred for Tory policies and her lack of interest in letting Parliament’s ‘clubby’ atmosphere change her opinion of the Tory MPs who pass them: the enemy of her constituents.
The impact of that interview – termed by one right-winger ‘the interview that launched a thousand comment-pieces‘ – is still being felt. The depth of the shock-wave it created could be perceived in the avalanche of attacks on Ms Pidcock by Establishment journalists and politicians.
Ms Hinsliff’s article has been published, coincidentally or otherwise, on the same weekend that Laura Pidcock, in an interview with Owen Jones, reaffirmed her view that she is in Parliament to oppose Tories, not to befriend them – as well as commenting on the not-unrelated truth that the Establishment is afraid of Labour’s authenticity and strength on social media.
Ms Hinsliff manages, without any apparent sense of irony, to miss the point by a country mile. Of the five ‘odd couples’ she chooses to showcase, the only relevant pairing is that of Shami Chakrabarti and Sayeeda Warsi – we’ll come back to them. The other four merely illustrate the problem with Labour politicians’ chumminess with their Tory counterparts – that well-known syndrome:
“They’re all the same.”
Ms Hinsliff makes a big thing of the different backgrounds of the pairings she picks, for example ‘old Etonian’ Nicholas Soames vs ‘labourer’s son’ Frank Field; privately-educated soldier Johnny Mercer vs former union rep Ruth Smeeth.
But nobody has suggested it’s a bad thing for Labour MPs to be friendly with MPs from different backgrounds – where people come from is irrelevant.
Tony Benn was a Viscount – but he fought to change the law to be able to renounce his title so he could continue as an MP to serve the people. He’s a hero to the left. Frank Field may be a labourer’s son, but he’s despised by many left-wingers for his perceived arrogance and his right-wing stance on a range of issues.
It’s not where you came from, it’s where you are now – and where you believe we need to get to. And in that, there’s barely a fag-paper between Hinsliff’s ‘odd couples’ on issues that matter to many.
Ms Hinsliff knows this – because she says it about pairings in her article.
About Field and Soames:
What seems to make the friendship tick… is a knack for reaching identical conclusions from different starting points
About Steve Reed and Tory MP Heidi Allen:
[I]t’s quite difficult to get Allen and Reed to pinpoint an issue on which they disagree
Jess Phillips and Anne Milton consider each other ‘soulmates’. When Ms Smeeth wants to highlight Mercer’s solicitousness toward her even when they’re having a ‘fierce disagreement’, she does not choose one of the major social issues dividing the country – inequality, homelessness, education, the persecution and demonisation of the poor, sick and disabled or the impoverishment of our young people through tuition fees and inflated interest rates on student loans.
Instead, she says:
Even if you’re having fierce arguments about whether it should be 2% or 3% of GDP expenditure on defence
And that is the problem. Not background, race or class, but this:
Are you for helping and protecting people and their communities – or are you part of the problem, voting in order to take money away from disabled people and their carers, or to push through a new benefits system in spite of enormous evidence of the desperate straits in which it is putting people?
The hope that is inspiring people to re-engage in politics and which is threatening the Establishment has been born out of seeing that there are politicians who are in Parliament to fight the system that is hurting people – not to be a gnat’s-whisker’s width away from them except in the circus of PMQs.
That truth is one that will be immediately recognisable to people facing the harsh reality of life under Tory policies, even if it seems to be beyond the wit of a few mediocre journalists and politicians who have jumped to support Ms Hinsliff’s article in unpleasant ways on social media.
It’s a truth that Ms Hinsliff misses – or at least omits – from her article. It’s one that the Establishment wants to sully or obscure it, so things can return to ‘normal’. It’s one that those who care about the oppressed cannot afford to let be obscured – one that we need to make even more noise about.
The only relevant and potentially problematic couple in the article are Chakrabarti and Warsi, to whom we said we’d return. But the pair describe their friendship as forming around issues on which they were both distinctly on the anti-Establishment side of the fence: 42-day detention; racism in the EU referendum campaign; most recently, an anti-Trump demonstration.
So if the pair are an exception to the desirability of Labour parliamentarians fighting MPs who represent an ideology that is the enemy of ordinary people, they are a small one – and the one that ‘proves the rule’.
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