Some of My Best Friends Aren’t Tories

Douglas Rooney on the rise of the brocast, the cringey podcast of the chumocracy and the ascendance of a weird new form of centrism.

I work with a very nice American woman. She is hard-working, unfailingly polite and pleasant. However, we will never be friends. She is a Trump supporting conservative who campaigns for anti-LGBTQ+ Christian organizations. I am a gay man married to a Chinese citizen. It would be utterly bizarre for me to befriend a person who is actively campaigning to undermine my rights. 

I bring this up because we are living through something of a centrist ascendency in the UK just now. The Brexiteers and the Corbynistas have been banished from the two major parties, and the moderates are back in charge. As part of this ascendency, we are all being assured, in the Opinion pages of national newspapers, on social media, in speeches from MPs, and in ‘frenemies’ political podcasts like The Rest Is Politics or George Osborne and Ed Ball’s new show, Political Currency, that it is not just permissible to have friends across the political spectrum, but it is actually a good thing.


The argument goes something like this: we are all living in echo chambers, and post-Brexit Britain is dangerously polarized. We need to talk to people on the other side. This will help hone our rhetorical skills and test the validity of our ideological assumptions in the marketplace of ideas. Oh, and also some of my best friends are Tories. 

But numbering your political opponents among your friends can only happen if politics doesn’t matter. And politics should matter.

Friendship should be based on mutual respect. Take me and my work colleague: we cannot be friends precisely because my marriage matters a great deal to me, and my marriage is an ungodly perversion to her. Our different political positions on the issue of LGBTQ+ rights mean we cannot form a friendship because she does not respect me or my right to have a family.

Let’s take another issue: the Conservative Party has made it increasingly difficult for me to live in the UK with my Chinese spouse. A member of the Conservative Party is, therefore, in a very real way, campaigning against the interests of me and my family. No less than my homophobic work colleague, an activist for the Conservative Party is trying to make my marriage more difficult. And that just doesn’t seem like something I want in a friend. 

Of course, I am not saying that your friends must agree with every single political position you hold: it would be strange to de-friend someone over, for example, a disagreement about the local council congestion charge. However, de-friending someone due to their politics should not be something we discourage because politics can have huge consequences for people, families, and communities.  

Politics is not a game; it is, quite literally for many, a matter of life and death. But I don’t think the centrists currently in charge have quite realized that. Alistair Campbell, for example, is one of the architects of the Iraq War – a war that killed, maimed or displaced millions. But Rory Stewart is not one of those millions, and so he can quite easily discuss the conflict calmy as they have in past episodes. George Osborne’s austerity policies immiserated millions, but Ed Balls isn’t one of those millions, and so friendly political banter comes more easily to him than, say, the 1 in 5 Britons who are living in poverty.

These are high profile examples, but the same is true of any moderate telling you to sit down with your political opponent to “hone your argument”. The ability to turn politics into something you do for fun over a pint does not signify rationality or a level head: it signifies that the politics under discussion don’t matter to the people discussing them. For millions of us politics does matter, and if they matter to you then it is perfectly fine if some of your best friends aren’t Tories. 



Comments (13)

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  1. Andrew Wilson says:

    excellent and well said; you encapsulate my reservations about Evangelical christians; I am gay, and still hold to Christian believes, I see no contradiction. Other people do, and just because they are ‘nice’ and smile, does not mean they would not take the opportunity to deny me equality. Yes you can be polite back, but they are NOT your friends.

  2. Stewart Bremner says:

    The cross-party political chumminess in professional politicians has always bothered me and you’ve encapsulated the reasons for that very well. Thank you.

  3. Graeme Purves says:

    A good piece.

  4. Sandy Watson says:

    The need to take some form of action when things are going wrong…but not being sure what is the best thing to do, including concern about doing something that makes things worse for oneself.

    This fits alongside any ideas of ‘not being friendly’ towards those whose ideals and aims would cause us harm or work against what we need and want.

    For most this is a constant quandary in political action/non-action.

  5. Niemand says:

    Friendships can transcend politics and you can still care about it and have a friend with differing political allegiances. I am not actually sure what this article is trying to say – that you can’t because you have to see your friend in the light of every policy of the party they support? If so then give me a ‘moderate’, who calls for less polarisation and more respectful debate any day, rather than this kind of moralistic fundamentalism that condemns a person so easily and only ever sees politics as about winning and losing.

    One of the keys to the Good Friday agreement was the unlikely friendship that developed between McGuiness and Paisley during the actual negotiations – their connection? Their sense of humour, they had fun, it broke the ice because their fun was genuine. You can have fun and respect and still be serious and clear about major differences and argue them out. Despite what is suggested, none of these things are mutually exclusive.


    1. John says:

      Niemand – I broadly agree with you and that personal friendships are based on many factors. I have never voted Tory and dislike many aspects of their policies but this has not stopped me from having friends who vote Tory.
      I have however over the years distanced myself from people who have openly espoused racism, usually after trying to discuss with them, and I can understand how Andrew Wilson would not wish to be friends with someone who judges his lifestyle in the manner he describes.
      I take your point about personal friendships across political divides being beneficial to decision making and their are many historical examples of this but I do find political opponents who had real differences when MP’s suddenly becoming chummy to further their post political career in the arena of political discussion as in the case of Osborne & Balls a bit forced and a bit hypocritical.

      1. Niemand says:

        Yes, agreed John. I have a couple of now ex-friends who began to espouse racist views or went down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole. It is the move from legitimately specific reasons to the general that bothers me. I would also make a clear distinction between newly chummy political rivals forging a post-political career, who I also find unconvincing at best, and real friendship

  6. 240227 says:

    But then again, Douglas, if you befriended that woman, she might become more sympathetic towards (or come to like) you as a person, you might humanise the LGBTQ+ community her through her friendship with you, and her anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes might consequently soften.

    A big part of the problem with our plurality is that we all rush to divide ourselves into irreconcilable factions and to demonise and shun our ‘enemies’. Maybe, to reconcile our differences so that we can live with them peaceably, in society, we need to cultivate conversation instead of confrontation in our ordinary, everyday interactions with one another. And perhaps it’s we who need to cut the first sod, offer the initial hand of friendship.

    1. Niemand says:

      I am reminded of the black person in the US, whose name I forget, who deliberately cultivated friendships with some white supremacists and in one case completely changed their supremacist worldview and even with others, modified it. He gave a good Ted talk on it.

      1. 240228 says:

        Daryl Davis, an African-American musician, has been befriending members of white supremacist groups for the past 25 years in recognition of their common humanity. He began after a chance meeting with a member of the KKK following a gig.

        As Davis says, ‘The Ku Klux Klan is as American as baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet…These people have been accustomed to a way a life, to a form of crooked hegemony, that obviously cannot and will not last forever, and I think they have a hard time letting go of it.’

        ‘More Martin [Luther King] than Malcolm [X]’, as black activists often put it.

  7. SleepingDog says:

    By what possible calculation could the claim “the moderates are back in charge” of Labour and Conservatives be justified? I rather agree with Owen Jones on this reality-inversion.
    Is Jeremy Corbyn, who opposed nuclear weapons, and whose policy platform well represented majority public opinion, not a moderate, but Keir Starmer is? Ditto for the increasingly unhinged, anti-democratic and ecocidal Conservatives.

    1. 240229 says:

      ‘Moderate’ is a relative term; it locates its referent between equally relative ‘extremes’.

      Tony Blair defined the moderate ground within the Labour Party. He marked out this ground between those on the ‘right’, the so-called ‘managers of a conservative country’, who had remained in the party after their colleagues had broken away to form the Social Democrats, and those on the ‘left’, who clung to the outdated ideologies of state socialism.

      Keir Starmer is a Labour Party moderate inasmuch as he occupies this ‘middle ground’ between the relative ‘extremes’ of Harriet Harman and Jeremy Corbyn. He seems to adhere to several basic principles:

      1. Opposition is different to governing. In opposition, fights need to be picked and risks taken; e.g. over the Gaza motion, where Starmer both united the party and defeated the government. Nor do you need to be consistent, but only effectively contrarian in relation to government policy.

      2. Leadership transcends divisions. Starmer criticises Labour’s left and right, but also lauds them. He recognises the strengths and weaknesses of the different factions within the Labour party, which brings together or ‘syndicates’ those factions and strengthens the whole movement. This is something successive Tory leaders have singularly failed to do with the Conservative party and the current SNP leadership is struggling to do following the abdication of Nicola Sturgeon.

      3. Ethos transcends differences. Starmer emphasises the Labour ‘brand’, the distinctive blend of motivations, aspirations, and objectives that emerges – and has always, throughout its history, emerged – from the competing traditions within the party.

      4. Pragmatism is preferable to dogmatism. Under Starmer, Labour has eschewed having a coherent political philosophy to steer and guide its policies. Instead, its ‘centre’ is informed by public attitudes. This approach to politics is inherently pragmatic because it’s not based on ideas but on democratic expediency; policy is determined not by ideology but by what the electorate wants.

      5. Timeliness. The Labour party must be ‘agile’ and move with the times. Under Starmer, the Labour party is a project rather than a fixed identity, and it’s an ‘agile’ project because it emphasises continuous collaboration and evolution in response to generational and cultural change.

      Starmer’s adherence to what we might call these ‘five principles of moderation’ is what’s preventing Labour from disintegrating in the same way that the Conservative Party’s disintegrating and the SNP’s at risk of doing in Scotland (probably because they’ve been in power for so long).

    2. SleepingDog says:

      My point is made, perhaps rather better, by Green MP Caroline Lucas:
      “I’m still reeling from Rishi Sunak’s shameless, dangerous speech”
      I watched the speech live after getting an alert, and my reaction was much the same. I found it contained a chilling threat of advancing to the next phase of political policing (which in view of current events, investigations and inquiries, is abominable). Sunak also poured out a torrent of lies about British history, which I guess Lucas referred to in the context of gaslighting and culture wars.

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