Thursday, July 24, 2008

Marching with the enemy?

As someone who often gets ticked off for being too pally with people from other parties, I have probably earned myself a few negative brownie points over the past couple of weeks. Regular readers will know that I often chat about the Tory Boys and I also value my friendship with our local Labour MP Patrick Hall and friends from Respect. Politics of course is important to me but it frankly isn't the only thing I care about and if I made a condition of friendship shared political views I'd be quite a lonely person!

So on Saturday I was at Chicksands at the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre for Intelligence Corps day. This is always an enjoyable event, Pimms on the lawn, lunch in the marquee (always a reminder, despite the fact that it is private contractors providing it now, of 1970's army food!) and an afternoon to look round the beautiful Chicksands Priory and visit the excellent Military Intelligence Museum. One of the guest's of honour was Sir Stanley Odell, erstwhile President of the local Tories. He is quite a character who I first got to know when I ran Bedford Boys Club some 16 years ago. Whenever we meet he likes to tell me he thinks I am in the wrong party (after all I look like a Tory (!)) but is also always disarmingly informed about what I am up to politically. Clearly has taken on board the army maxim "know your enemy".

Then on Monday, having interviewed Jo Swinson (more about that later), I met up with Patrick for dinner in The Adjournment at Portcullis. I have also known Patrick almost as long, he was a County Councillor when I worked in the Youth Service and was always a great supporter of our work, going out of his way, unlike others, to attend events and to encourage our young people. In fact, one of the deciding factors for me in not standing for PPC in Bedford was a fear that, being the fighter I am, I would find myself pulling my punches standing against a friend, although this has never meant I haven't challenged his party's policies on public platforms, or when chatting privately.

There are many examples in Westminster of close cross party friendships and I have to say I find it quite sad that some in our party disapprove so vociferously, for me it holds echoes of the sectarianism that has been so damaging in places like Northern Ireland. But, whilst such attitudes make me cross, they have absolutely no impact whatsoever on my behaviour. If those who display such attitudes think by doing so they will force me to change my wayward ways, they will be sadly disappointed!

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Anthony Butcher