Heart Searching: Love: Labour's not lost: Left out on a limb? Find a Socialist Partner, says Emma Cook

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Your companion for the evening is charming, witty, vivacious and very good-looking. You can't believe your luck. Do you feel the same way two hours later, however, when it transpires through discussion that their political sympathies lie slightly right of Attila the Hun's? Is romance doomed just because you can't agree on private health or nuclear power?

Quite simply, yes, according to Peter Shaw, founder of Socialist Partners. His belief that 'politics infiltrates everything' inspired him to set up a dating agency specifically for lonely hearts with left- wing leanings. 'Imagine you're watching the news and you're partner disagrees completely with every comment you make,' says Mr Shaw. 'It's a recipe for disaster.' For Mr Shaw, arguing with a Conservative can be quite enjoyable but dating or marrying one would be incomprehensible. For his 400 members, ranging from centre left to Communist, it's a prospect they're just not prepared to risk.

From an office in north Sheen, south-west London, Mr Shaw personally matches up completed questionnaires for political as well as general compatibility. Clients pay a fee of pounds 35 and are promised a minimum of 10 profiles within six months. His introductory mem-

bership letter outlines the potential pitfalls of joining a mainstream agency. 'You often find that the person you take the time and trouble (and expense) to meet is someone with unbelievably cretinous Tory views. Nice date.' So why not specify that you want a potential partner with left-wing views? In Mr Shaw's experience, and some of his members', most introductory services lose interest once they know where you stand politically. 'It's like admitting you've got the plague,' he says. 'You're treated as a troublemaker, a second-class member.'

According to the agency Dateline, those with strong political beliefs may well find it harder to meet suitable partners. Of 36,500 members, only 5.8 per cent of men and 6 per cent of women say they are left-wing, while 43 per cent of men and 48 per cent of women express no interest in politics. It seems the majority, especially of women, are not necessarily Conservative - just completely indifferent. 'That suits most men,' says Frances Pyne of Dateline. 'They don't want some strident political activist.'

Yet even the politically neutral members know what they don't like: 14 per cent of men and 18 per cent of women stipulate that they

definitely do not want to meet a left-winger, compared with 9 per cent and 13 per cent who express equal antipathy towards rightwingers. Ms Pyne attributes the difference to people's perception of socialists as 'very strident and extremist'. It seems that most members, regardless of their beliefs, just don't want to mix politics with courtship.

So, if left-wing supporters want to combine the two why don't they just join a sympathetic political party? Retired doctor June Bean, 69, met her current boyfriend through Socialist Partners last December. As a member of the party Democratic Left, she found that her contacts were fairly restricted. 'In your local branch there just aren't that many people to choose from.' By contrast, the social networking potential within the Conservative Party is much greater. The Young Conservatives, for example, has been described as a dating agency in itself. The packed social calendar of balls, dinner and garden parties just doesn't exist on the same scale within any left-wing organisation.

In this context, Conservatives are perceived as extroverts who know how to enjoy themselves, as opposed to socialists who devote all their time to discussing ideol-

ogy. As far as Samantha Davies, chairman of the Greater London Young Conservatives, is concerned, there is some truth in these perceptions. This is why, she reasons, there would be absolutely no need for an equivalent 'Conservative Partners.'

'Socialists can be so intense and political,' she says. 'You've got to offer something more than evenings around a copy of Das Kapital.' At party conferences it's the Conservatives, she says, who 'go off every night to have a good time and socialise', while Labour members stay 'to sit round and talk politics'.

Mr Shaw argues Conservative Partners exists already - just not in name. 'Other agencies are all run by Tories,' he says. 'It's covert but they have an interview process through which they weed out the ones they don't want.' University lecturer Sarah Owen (not her real name) joined Socialist Partners over a year ago. Previously, she signed up with one of the larger introduction services but found them extremely unhelpful. Her specifications were nonsmoking men in their forties with left-wing sympathies.

As soon as the agency received these details, it seemed to lose interest, sending her just two pro-

files - both highly unsuitable. 'The culture of most singles clubs is right-wing,' she says. 'They are being run by people whose main motive is to make money.' She was attracted by Mr Shaw's initial free membership offer and, of course, the ruling out of any right- wingers. 'It's not that I'm going to spend the rest of my life talking about politics,' she says. 'One

doesn't have to if you've got it in common in the first place.'

When June Bean met her partner, a trade union executive, they discussed politics almost immediately and it is still a strong focus in their relationship. 'We had both been in the Communist Party so we knew the same people and had a huge amount in common. It was important and still is.' But a

shared passion for left-wing values can never guarantee mutual attraction. June concedes that politically she could have 'got by' with other Socialist Partners she met, but a mutual respect for certain ideologies was never enough to create that special spark. 'You still need that personal chemistry.'

Socialist Partners, PO Box 276, London SW16 5XL.

(Photograph omitted)