In defence of Laura Pidcock

August 25, 2017
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Laura Pidcock’s claim that she has “absolutely no intention of being friends” with Tories because they are “the enemy” raises the question of whether tribalism in politics is a good thing. I suspect that, for her, it is.

This seems an odd thing to say. I don’t want politics to consist of a set of echo chambers in which people only talk to the like-minded, and I like to think this blog sometimes tries to speak to non-leftists. “My side right or wrong” has given us the ugly spectacle of some leftists supporting dictatorial or failed statist policies, and of supposed libertarians making common cause with fascists even though their philosophies should in principle be miles apart*.

On the other hand, though, there are some things to be said for tribalism.

First, it can be a useful cognitive short-cut. We all lack the knowledge and rationality to make good decisions, except in a very few spheres. Using others as a guide can therefore be what Gerd Gigerenzer calls a “fast and frugal heuristic”. For example, in 2010 I defended tribalism on the grounds that:

In being averse to having an Etonian as PM, I am taking a quick route to the judgment that such a man will take decisions about unknowable future events that I mightn’t like.

Subsequent events have not discorroborated that view. Likewise, the fact that Brexit was supported by a bunch of cunts should have been a clue that it wasn’t a good idea**. Being on the opposite side of Farage is generally a comfortable position.

You might object that this isn’t always the case and that leftists have something to learn from Tories. There’s a little truth in this. Lefties should learn from Oakeshott, Burke and Hayek that individual wisdom and knowledge is bounded and that there is therefore something to be said for both markets (or decentralized decision-making) and tradition. And we should listen to thoughtful Tories such (pdf) as Jesse Norman.

But these are exceptions. The fact that the Tory manifesto was devoid of ideas tells us that the statist wing of the party has nothing useful to say, whilst the free market wing seems to consist of boilerplate Econ 101 which hasn’t progressed since Hayek (and what it learnt from him was wrong). And all sides have had their minds addled by Brexit. For the most part, Ms Pidcock isn’t missing anything by avoiding Tories.

She is also to be applauded for recognizing that politics is not a cosy game in which, after lively debate, jolly good chaps retire to the bar to have a laugh. It is instead a matter, literally, of life and death: Tory benefit cuts have driven people to suicide, and their threat to deport foreigners has caused genuine distress and uncertainty. In these senses, Ms Pidcock is right to call them the enemy. We live in a class-divided society in which the political question is ultimately Pete Seeger’s (or Billy Bragg’s): which side are you on?

There’s something else. There has always been a danger that Labour MPs would be seduced by the glamour and wealth of the people they meet in parliament: not just Tory MPs but lobbyists and businessmen. This is one of many ways in which their radicalism can be dissipated. It’s why the ending of Orwell’s Animal Farm has such force for the left:

 The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Ms Pidcock is awake to this danger. For that, I applaud her.

* Such an alliance, however, makes sense if you regard right libertarianism not as a coherent philosophy but merely as the voice of over-entitled white men. As a friend of mine said, “we’re all Robert Nozick on a bad day.”

** I’m not of course saying that all Brexiters are cunts.

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