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Can Special Relationships Survive Political Differences?

15/02/2017 08:13

Do you care about other people's beliefs? What's the odd, differing political view between friends? Since we were asked to leave or remain, to back Clinton or Trump, these questions have taken on new significance. The 'special relationship' between the UK and US is not the only partnership currently under awkward strain. The EU referendum and the US election divided friends, families and political parties and the aftershocks of these recent, political earthquakes are still being felt.

When the charity Relate surveyed 300 of their support practitioners, it found that around one fifth had worked with clients who argued over Brexit. The story of Gayle McCormick takes this to the next level. She and her husband of 22 years separated after he revealed his intention to vote for Trump. Love doesn't always conquer all. On reading the story, I found myself wondering how she had ended up marrying him in the first place. Even if they had never discussed voting preferences, were there no conversational clues leading to his fondness for Twitter obsessed demagogues? Couples discuss all manner of political issues - whether they label them this way or not - from the cost of petrol and childcare, to the availability of GP appointments and housing. Being with someone who's on a similar political page not only makes life a little easier, common ground means you are likely to enjoy each other's company. I don't share identical political opinions with my husband, but if he discriminated against others based on their religion or sexuality and thought that torturing human beings was fair game counter-terror policy, I doubt we'd have made it to the end of the first date, never mind to the end of the aisle.

Politicians, that notoriously tribal species, often go with their party whip even when they don't agree, to try and save the ship from sinking, while throwing the lifejackets overboard, if that's what their constituents demand. But like love and friendship, campaigning partnerships can be formed across political divides because people with very different party politics can still share common values. That's why, when it comes to policy making, cross-party support for issues can be successfully and effectively encouraged. The Dubs Amendment, a scheme to provide sanctuary to lone children fleeing war in Syria is one example of this. When it was introduced in April last year, it was supported by Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP and five Conservative MPs. Despite this cross-party support, in a shameful retreat from responsibility and basic human compassion, the scheme was brought to an end by the Government last week.

When it comes to relationships, the absence of sexual attraction or unconditional love can make us less forgiving. In the days following the EU referendum, a particularly vomit-inducing Winnie the Pooh meme (involving Pooh and Piglet going to the pub for a cosy drink, despite being on opposite sides of the debate) did the social media rounds. An alternative version, brilliantly re-written by Jennie Stevenson, quickly went viral. When interviewed about why she wrote it, she explained that she wanted something that was more nuanced about how she was feeling, because people's politics aren't separate from who they are. That's exactly it. Some views and opinions speak volumes. They are a not so secret window to our soul, revealing how we treat others and how we choose to live our lives. So it's inevitable that they influence who we want to spend time with.

Like the question posed in the EU referendum, the question of whether relationships can survive political differences is multi-layered and complex, much more so than a binary choice allows for. Like so many things in life, the answer depends on the variables. Friends or family; love or like; lifelong or recent; the strength of feeling involved. But it's clear that some relationships will not survive political differences. And nor do I think they should have to. We shouldn't be afraid of disagreement and debate. Sometimes in life, we need to choose a side. Fence sitting or remaining silent isn't brave or diplomatic but it's usually the easier option, particularly when there's a 'brand' to protect. Gary Lineker could probably do without going to war with the might of the Daily Mail and I'm sure J.K. Rowling would rather not waste her wit and words on Piers Morgan. But they are, in my view, two shining celebrity examples (the odd one out is Piers, in case you're in any doubt...) choosing to speak out because they care and because they understand the influence and reach their words can have. They fight the good fight. Standing up for human rights, speaking out on behalf of those who are vulnerable, showing fellow human beings kindness and compassion - these are qualities I respect in others and those I am lucky enough to love and count as close friends fight the good fight too.

Choosing friends who are like-minded doesn't mean protecting yourself in a bubble and refusing to listen to other perspectives. But I'm not surprised that all around me, I see people forming tribes, just as politicians do. Despite well worn talk of the dangers of echo-chambers, retreating to safe spaces to plan resistance is currently the preferred option for many. I believe that we need to get out of our comfort zones, to keep persuading others but right now, when the darkest of forces have won this round, it feels safer to stick with those who are on our side. There's a long road ahead and the stakes are higher than any of us imagined. When it comes to closeness, the hard truth is that some relationships can no longer be considered special. Sometimes, we need to let go of the other person's hand, or not take it in the first place, because integrity and self-respect are more important. Sometimes cracks were already there and sometimes, a relationship is toxic from the start. The Prime Minister shouldn't need a relationship counsellor to help her figure that one out and neither should we.

www.frediani.co.uk

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