TWO rules of life for you: the loudest voices in a room are rarely the most interesting, and the biggest headlines in a newspaper are never the most revealing.

Take this week for example. Most newspapers have been leading, obviously, with “PM faces pressure to quit”, but two smaller headlines were just as interesting: “Record shop bans Morrissey records” and “Roy Wood wishes it could be Brexit every day”. Take a good look at those stories because they reveal, in tiny, frustrating detail, where the politics of identity – you/us, yes/no, leave/remain – have taken us. They show just how far we have strayed from normal.

The ban on Morrissey is particularly curious. In announcing it, the owner of the record shop, Spillers in Cardiff, said, with the sort of earnestness most people grow out of, that she could no longer stock Morrissey’s releases because of his support for the far-right party For Britain. No doubt, fans of Roy Wood will also be wondering if it’s still ok to like his music now he’s revealed he supports a philosophy many consider just as extreme: Brexit. And lovers of Kate Bush, you may remember, went through similar angst when she appeared to reveal she was a Tory (she has since denied it).

I realise none of this may matter much to anyone under 40, but it has created an amusing cognitive dissonance in the minds of some middle-aged music fans as they try to hold two conflicting ideas in their head, such as “I like Morrissey’s music” and “I dislike Morrissey’s beliefs”. However, if you think the singer has only started showing an interest in nationalism, where have you been? Listen to his song Irish Blood, English Heart from 2004: “I’ve been dreaming of a time when/To be English is not to be baneful/To be standing by the flag not feeling shameful, racist or partial.” There are plenty of other examples.

Getting worked up over the beliefs of artists and musicians also misses an important fact: it doesn’t matter. I remember an influential English teacher of mine telling me that the intention of the novelist or poet ceases to matter the moment they’ve finished their work. If you love a particular sentence or stanza, or see a particular meaning in it, nothing can change that – not even the fact that the person who wrote the beautiful words isn’t quite so beautiful – or, God forbid, is a supporter of Brexit.

Sadly, modern public life is increasingly distant from this kind of common sense and instead promotes ideological or national identities that trump everything else. Most of us are made up of opinions that rarely fit into a coherent ideology – Morrissey supports For Britain, for example, but is vehemently opposed to Trump – and yet we’re more and more defined and judged by identities that contain none of that subtlety. In the words of the rabbi Jonathan Sacks this week, we’ve become parcelled into sects of like-minded people. Are you a Brexiter? Are you a Scottish nationalist? Think carefully how you answer because it matters more than ever.

Undoubtedly, social media and the referendums in 2014 and 2016 are to blame for much of the problem. It also doesn’t help that we have two leaders in Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon who prioritise tribal issues – Brexit and Scottish independence. However, it’s the consequences rather than the causes that trouble me. If you’re the former lead singer of a 1980s band, it may simply mean your records are banned from a shop in Cardiff, but more seriously, politics-by-label coarsens public life. To say you’re a Tory, for example, is to invite open hatred from others whatever your views may be on particular issues. In Scotland, the same applies to being openly unionist or nationalist.

The other obvious problem with identity politics is it distracts attention from pressing political problems – indeed, that’s the attraction of it for some politicians. In the case of Brexit, there has effectively been no domestic government agenda in the last two years and in Scotland independence has become more and more dominant at the same time as the state of the NHS and Scottish schools has worsened. This is not a coincidence.

Read more: Morrissey's most controversial opinions

However, political leaders who seek to thrive through identity politics should be careful what they wish for as tribalism can have serious consequences for them too. The main reason Mrs May is on the brink of falling as PM this week is because she identified herself as a Brexiter but has now been judged by her party to be insufficiently “Brexit”. On a much smaller scale, Nicola Sturgeon has also run into trouble over a second independence referendum – the fact that there hasn’t been one yet has raised questions in the minds of some SNP members about her commitment to the cause. When you live in a political bunker, you are judged by how near or far you are from the door.

The obvious answer is a return to more pragmatic politics and I sincerely hope Jonathan Sacks was right when he said in his interview that the current crisis will generate a solution. In effect, what we have to do is sit and wait for a new pragmatic, non-nationalistic leader to emerge to put things right. He or she may not even be a politician yet. Who knows – and it’s a sobering thought – they may not even have been born.

As usual though, there are lessons to be learned from the political past. On Monday, a new TV documentary about Margaret Thatcher provided a useful reminder that, even though she ended up creating a new political identity in Thatcherism, in her early days Mrs Thatcher was anything but an identity politician. She was lower middle class, her dad ran a shop, she was a woman – in other words, she defied the rules of the traditional Tory.

Of course, we all know how her story ended – and it now looks like it’s going to end the same way for Mrs May – but even the last chapter of Thatcherism is a reminder of the lesson here: national success and stability is to be found in pragmatism rather than the mantras and labels of identity. Jonathan Sacks says we’ve been forced into sects. You may prefer the word bunkers or tribes. But whatever term you use, isn’t it time we got out of them?