At the Joint Public Issues Team we orient our work around six hopes for society, one of which is that politics will be characterised by listening, kindness and truthfulness.

While politics has always been a mucky business, the 24 hour media cycle, the ability to carry the news around in our pockets and commentate on the issues in real time means that now, more than ever, we can’t escape it. Reading the news, watching the theatrical uproar of Prime Ministers Questions, seeing politicians endlessly finger pointing, and watching people shout past each other on social media, this hope can seem like a naïve and completely unrealistic dream.

Since the Brexit referendum, latent political and social fractures in the UK have been uncovered in a new light. In the years since the referendum, political debate seems to have become more divisive. It often appears that politicians fan the flames of division for their own political gain. These divisions are further exacerbated by the fact that, despite globalisation and the internet, we exist in ever-narrowing echo chambers. More and more, we spend time with people who think and act like us in the online and the real world. While it is a well-worn truism, we do live in polarised times.

With an election coming up sometime in the months ahead, my fear is that the election campaign will stoke the worst instincts of politics and society, and see parties and candidates playing off division and fear to win the election. I believe that the challenges that the UK and wider world are facing, from growing inequality, to the climate crisis and international conflicts, are too big and too important for us to give in to fear, paralysis, apathy and blame games. We need robust and searching public debate of the issues and we need creative political solutions.

If this all sounds pie in the sky to you, let me just say that I completely understand. My instinct is to hunker down, disengage, make some tea and turn on a TV show. We can’t control what the Government, opposition parties, political pundits and candidates are saying. However, we are responsible for the quality of political debate we engage in, and the conversations we have in our communities, families, friendship groups, workplaces and churches.

Having constructive discussions amidst disagreement over the things that matter is not easy. Looking to the church, I often feel that it is at its most gracious and beautiful when it is able to be a space of diversity and unity. It is also clear that fellowship amidst diversity of experience and thought is hard. However, I think this is when the commandments to ‘love your neighbour’ and ‘love your enemy’ are at their most costly and most important.

In the run-up to the election, while we should go into discussions aware that they may not be easy, there are many reasons to be hopeful, to believe that constructive disagreement is possible, and maybe even welcome.

For starters, the UK is less polarised than we think. In a piece of research that took 18 months and was the product of thousands of interviews with Britons across all political and social spectrums, More In Common found that there was far greater overlap on political values and issues than expected.[1]

There is also hope in that research has shown that polarisation and preconceptions reduce when people spend time with those they disagree with, or create diverse social networks.[2] Moreover, research indicate that the vast majority of people in the UK want to try to disagree well and don’t want to give into tribalism. Indeed, 91% of Britons of all political persuasions want to have these conversations and believe that we can disagree and come together.[3]

In the midst of a political landscape that feels intractably divided, I find it very hopeful to know that in reality we have more in common than we have been led to believe.

The challenge we are left with then becomes, how do we break out of our echo chambers? How do we have productive conversations when we disagree? How do we find the common ground and how do we use this ground to tackle the immense challenges we are facing today, together?

This brief resource sets out some pointers to support us in having constructive conversations in the lead up to the election.

[1] 0917-mic-uk-britain-s-choice_report_dec01.pdf (

[2] Political polarization and its echo chambers: Surprising new, cross-disciplinary perspectives from Princeton

[3] Ibid.


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