Comment: Good enemies need each other just as much as good friends do

Physical contact with a woman he loathed so cordially is taking years off Ted Heath's life

DOWNRIGHT SCARY, that picture of Lady Thatcher and Edward Heath. The photograph taken of them mustering one another at the 20th anniversary celebrations of her accession to power is a ghastly portrait of enmity masked as friendship. It reminds me of nothing so much as the caricature by Beaverbrook's cartoonist David Low marking the Nazi-Soviet pact. "Ah!" says Hitler, extending a hand to Stalin. "The bloody assassin of the people." "The scum of the earth, I presume," replies Stalin with a courteous bow. Between them is a map of a vanquished Poland.

Over the near-lifeless corpse of the Tory party, William Hague has set out to broker peace between the two warring Tory former leaders, a symbolic laying aside of the party's fratricidal tendencies. But the strain of the star-crossed enemies' first public appearance together during last year's party conference was palpable. To judge by this week's outing, they aren't getting any better at it.

She tries to manoeuvre his substantial bulk to one side with those gimlet eyes fixed warily on his face, apparently worried that he is about to take a swipe at her. The slightest physical contact with a woman he loathed so cordially is clearly taking years off the rest of Ted's life. Yet the ritual of reconciliation is played out doggedly. Both characters have decided that it now fits their personal screenplay to appear magnanimous in old age, even if the substance is lacking. It is enough to make you admire John Major, who discovered that he had pressing business somewhere, anywhere, abroad and wouldn't be able to make it to this parody of Tory Party unity.

The late 20th century inclines to celebrate understanding and friendship, even when we all know that the truth is darker. In the corporate culture through which Mr Hague rose as a young management consultant at McKinsey, the ability to get along (or be seen to get along) with all your colleagues equally is considered one of the most important implements in an executive's armoury.

A friend of mine from the former East Germany, who has just had his first exposure to the bonding session of a large company, was struck by the similarities of this enforced clubbability with morale-raising events for the young Communist movement before 1989. In both cases you don't in fact feel very much, but you give the impression of being moved and sustained by the company of your peers.

The political expression of this insistence on friendliness is the culture of consensus. Its rise has been a shared trait of the prosperous democracies. Europe is dominated by Social and Christian Democratic parties whose policies are practically indistinguishable to the naked eye. Mr Blair has blurred the divisions between left and right so effectively that it is hard for his opponents to appear other than extremist. Until the war in Kosovo, New Labour had rarely uttered a word in anger.

It still shakes us to hear Mr Blair being bellicose rather than emollient. He is now seeking to move politics beyond mucky confrontation and on to the sunlit uplands where all reasonable people can be expected to agree with him.

That is a paradox, since politics is the pursuit of power and the making of a choice, to which there will inevitably be alternatives. But the statement that consensus exists often pre-empts the emergence of the desired agreement. That is the dynamic of the Northern Ireland peace process - the longer it goes on, and the greater public support becomes, the harder it becomes to break it off.

Politicians have highly contingent views of friendship and enmity, a consequence of routinely using other people as means to ends. In my colleague Donald Macintyre's biography of Peter Mandelson, we read of Mr Blair's uncomprehending frustration at the rivalry between Gordon Brown and Mr Mandelson. "Have you any conception of how despairing it is for me when two people who have been closest to me for more than a decade... will not lay aside their personal animosity and help me win?" Mr Blair writes to Mr Mandelson.

What is extraordinary is not that two highly-strung and motivated men with competing claims on the leader's favour should vie for predominance but that Mr Blair, preoccupied with winning power, cannot really understand their unwillingness to subjugate their emotions to his needs.

Politics is the arena in which the categories of friend and foe mutate most freely - see that footnote in the Tories' tragedy, the short-lived leadership pact between the right-wing, Eurosceptic John Redwood and the leftish Europhile Ken Clarke. Yet however consensual they may pride themselves on having become, I suspect that the leading practitioners value their enemies rather more than they value their allies. Enmities define and sustain them in a way that friendships do not.

The Heath-Thatcher frisson is as intense as any relationship of comrades in a shared cause. They were the grit in each other's ideological oyster, the reason to continue the struggle. Even now, they represent the two camps in the Manichean battle for the Tory soul. Better just to admit it.

The allies of powerful people tend to be paler versions of themselves and thus incapable of providing the spur a really determined leader needs. So when Mr Blair faced his first European summit with Chancellor Kohl and President Chirac, he sought advice not only from his intimates but also from the great She-enemy herself about how to do business with these tricky foreigners.

The rest of us live in a culture where friendship is idealised, but it gets harder to find the real thing and keep it. We watch Friends by ourselves on a Friday night, or we flee our grumpy flatmates who are such a poor apology for the fond chumminess of Joey, Rachel and the gang. Thelma and Louise dominated the female imagination - but who would drive into the Grand Canyon with us if push came to shove?

New research investigating the way we do friendship concludes that the more affluent people are, the fewer close friends they are likely to have and the more likely these relationships are to be transient. In other words, we are not so different from those nasty politicos making their calculated alliances. "People are far more ruthless about abandoning friends if their faces no longer fit a current lifestyle," concludes the report.

Most of us have done it or had it done to us. The truly unfeeling don't even notice, but I suspect most of us do, more than we care to say.

Real, lasting friendship, the kind that evolves and survives knocks, is in shorter supply, pushed to the margins of our lives by shortage of time and the modern emphasis on sexual love. "My husband/ girlfriend is my best friend," we say proudly, wondering at the same time why our best friend isn't. It makes you grateful for your enemies. At least you can count on them.

Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor