This month’s guest blog comes from Malcolm Powers, who shares his experiences of kindness in politics. The dominant narrative we have about politics right now, especially on a national level in the UK, is not about kindness, so I’m delighted to read a different perspective.
I’m Labour and you’re Conservative so we hate each other. They’re a Lib Dem, so we both hate them. That’s how politics works, right?
Well, it is often the way in which the media portray party politics in the UK.
I have worked in politics and with politicians for most of my professional life. And, while it would be unfair to suggest that politicians and activists from different parties are all best buddies, I have seen countless examples of kindness, friendship, respect and joint working across party divides.
My own political allegiance is very much Labour. I have been a councillor, have worked behind the scenes as a volunteer on election campaigns, and for a number of years as a full-time staffer. Inevitably this means that the vast majority of my political acquaintances are also Labour.
However, one of my oldest friends is a Conservative councillor and I am always delighted when they deliver positive change for their community, even if I don’t necessarily agree with the ideology behind their actions. I have also found myself in recent months working professionally with a Lib Dem councillor, and while there is some gentle banter, we work incredibly well together.
The vast majority of people of all persuasions get into politics because they want to do good and make people’s lives better.
Most people involved in politics are volunteers, doing it for free – helping with local election campaigns, delivering newsletters to residents, organising fundraising activities. At the count for the recent local elections in Reading, there were representatives from multiple parties – mostly volunteers, standing shoulder to shoulder (masked up) as the votes were counted, chatting, joking and getting along.
There is almost always mutual respect for the sheer amount of hard graft that people put in to political campaigning, particularly at a local level. As a staffer, I have run several Parliamentary by-election campaigns (which are particularly high-pressure). But again at the count, either I, or one of my oppos from another Party has come across and we have congratulated each other on our respective campaigns.
So is it just me? Well, no. A piece by Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian from 2017 shows that even MPs from different parties are able to be friends ‘off the pitch’. Moreover, there are countless examples of MPs from different parties working together behind the scenes in Parliament to deliver important changes to legislation, such as Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck and Conservative MP Robert Halfon working together on the School Breakfast Bill.
From the outside politics can look like a blood sport, but from the inside, despite often fundamental disagreements, the vast majority of those involved rub along.
Reach out in kindness
I want to finish with a story about another councillor friend of mine. My friend was going through a difficult period in their relationship. However, because their partner was also a member of the same political party, they felt that they couldn’t open up to any of their colleagues. In the end, after a council meeting it was an opposition councillor who approached my friend and asked if they were alright.
Ultimately politics is all about people. As in any walk of life, the people that we reach out to help or for support are not necessarily those with whom we share all our values.
I have been around politics for over 30 years and it can be tough, but it can also be kind.
Malcolm Powers is a former senior Labour Party manager and councillor who now runs his own business, focusing on communication and engagement, especially around the climate emergency.
Photo credit from Unsplash.