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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice