Flashback to a small and really rather romantic restaurant in Torquay, some years ago now, and my boyfriend of the time has just said the following: “I don’t really see the point of overseas aid.” He follows it up with: “Charity just encourages people not to bother helping themselves, and when you think about it, even things like the NHS and welfare could be seen as charity.”
I’m not often speechless, but on this occasion, I think I simply opened and closed my mouth a few times – in a passable imitation of one of the fish in the harbour outside. Reader ... the relationship did not last.
It’s why I’m always surprised when I see articles like the one in The Times over the weekend about politics and dating and suggesting that it might be a bit shallow and narrow-minded to let something as insignificant as politics get in the way of a good romance.
I’ll be honest, my own political persuasions mean I think some Tory policies are morally unjustifiable, and some Tory politicians make Darth Vader look like a jolly nice chap, but I don’t think being a Tory voter makes someone an inherently bad person ... I even agree that open dialogue, listening to people who have different views to you and not being dragged into the immediate polarisation of the culture wars are all good things.
I also think, however, if you voted for Brexit, or you chose Boris Johnson and his gang of amoral rule breakers at the last election, that your voting preferences are damaging the society I have to live in. Literally, I believe that your voting choices are making my life and the lives of people I care about worse.
I just worry that the seething resentment caused by this, might be a lot to deal with as my Tory partner and I eat our cereal and chat about the papers each morning, or snuggle down with a boxset on a Friday night.
Given that it’s pretty uncontroversial for people to rule partners in and out arbitrarily on the basis of looks, or hobbies or even their inability to chew with their mouths closed, surely making romantic decisions on the basis of compatibility of world view is actually a pretty sensible and not at all frivolous bet.
I’m not saying it always matches up exactly, but when we name qualities in a partner that we’re looking for – “caring”, “open-minded”, “not a fan of liars” – it seems reasonable to base some of our assessments of these qualities on whether or not the person in question thinks we should cut universal credit, or raise taxes for the richest one per cent, or hold ministers to account when they break their own codes.
What I’m saying, I suppose, is what many have said before me: the personal is political – and in some small way, it matters that you and the person you choose to spend your life with share the same broad values and vision. We make our little universes in imitation of the bigger ones, and I want mine to be based on fairness and kindness (I acknowledge that some Tory voters would feel the same) – which means choosing a partner who sees the same route as I do to these things.
There’s an old episode of Red Dwarf, in which an alternate version of the gang have become time travelling epicures – and they declare themselves to be good friends with the Hitlers – “Providing you avoid talking politics, they’re an absolute hoot,” says Rimmer. It’s an extreme example but for me, this is what ignoring political views entirely would feel like, whatever side of the spectrum you fall.
Could I find a die-hard Tory voter charming or funny? Of course I could. Could I have a stimulating exchange of views with them, and probably learn something about my own preconceptions and prejudices along the way? Almost certainly. Could I share my life with them? I don’t think so. I think it would be a life defined by conflict and irritation on both sides. Sometimes, (often? always?) politics is too important to ignore.
More than a decade after that ill-fated seaside dinner, I’m now married to a man who largely shares my political views – and honestly, it’s also a selfish choice. Romantic preferences are allowed to be. The last few years, let’s be honest, have not been the easiest for those of us who consider ourselves out of step with the current government and the current direction of the country.
I really don’t know how I’d cope with feeling out of step with my husband too, and our shared despair as we watch the NHS stretched to its limits and Tory ministers languishing on the beach as Afghanistan falls is a balm of sorts. I have the constant comfort of knowing that there is at least one other person left in the world who feels the way I do. So should I find myself suddenly single once more, I might well be one of the people adding a “No Tories” clause to my bio – and I think that’s OK. I can’t imagine they’d really want to date me either.
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