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Never kissed a Tory? It’s time to reconsider

A supporter wears a
We should be engaging people with differing perspectives, says Steve (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

I was sitting with my two-year-old son when I heard that the General Election had been called.

Unsurprisingly, we had slightly different emotional responses to the news.

He was annoyed that we weren’t watching a cartoon. Meanwhile my immediate reaction was to count the months on my fingers to check it was, as Rishi said, in the second half of the year.

To be perfectly honest, I would have much preferred to be watching a cartoon, too. But I had the remote and, as I have to stay briefed on current affairs for my job, I wasn’t about to switch over to a different circus just yet.

Like many, I’m sure, I’d been hoping for a General Election for months.

In my opinion, this Conservative Government jumped the shark a few Prime Ministers ago, so hearing that we would finally get a say on the future of this country, and all while sitting next to my lad who will live in that future, I felt hopeful.

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Hope was soon joined by a feeling of sadness though, because I knew the run up to the election would add tension to some of my relationships

Growing up in the red wall, I’ve always been left-leaning. I’m from a family of coal miners and I understood the vibe in the 1980s was rather anti-Tory. 

So it’s no surprise that I have since done one of the most left-wing jobs on TV – being on The Mash Report.

Steve Allen wearing a suit and tie, with one hand on his tie, looking directly at the camera
Simply saying: ‘Tories? Yuck!’ isn’t going to be enough to convince anyone, Steve explains (Picture: Steve Ullathorne)

However, the strange thing about me is that I also appear on GB News and Talk TV (which is seen as one of the most right-wing things to do), meaning I know and work with people who are right-wing.

That’s rather rare these days because social media tells us we should shun anyone who politically disagrees with us. 

According to one study, Gen Z has a political gender divide. Young men are skewing to the right, aided by the Tates and Petersons of the world, and young women leaning to the left. 

This isn’t particularly surprising when you consider that a recent YouGov study also found many Brits wouldn’t date someone who disagrees with them politically. 

Not to mention that people proudly wear their ‘Never Kissed A Tory’ T-shirts as if there was some risk of catching it. 

When an election is called, it’s almost like a bugle sounds and we all run off to our political silos

This, in my opinion, is the problem. We should be engaging people with differing perspectives, only then will we be able to better ourselves and become a more well-rounded society.

I had this epiphany in 2014 when I went to see a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

At the time I was doing a topical show up there every year and would go to see the competition. I remember watching an hour of great comedy where I agreed with everything the comedian had to say and so did everyone else in the audience. 

We even all jeered when a famous right wing newspaper was mentioned. We knew our role.

But as enjoyable as that hour was, I realised, it hadn’t moved anyone’s dial at all.

Steve Allen wearing a suit and looking at the camera
I’ve found there is a great benefit to debating with people who are from the other side of the spectrum, says Steve (Picture: Steve Ullathorne)

Preaching to the converted with added jokes is all very well but you can’t then be shocked that the people who disagree with your political position have no reason to be won over if you don’t have a stronger argument. 

Simply saying: ‘Tories? Yuck!’ isn’t going to be enough to convince anyone who doesn’t already think they’re yucky to change their position.

It’s not like sticking to our ‘sides’ is anything new though. When an election is called, it’s almost like a bugle sounds and we all run off to our political silos.

Think back to 2016 – how many Remainers were shocked to find out that Brexiters existed and outnumbered us? Part of that problem was because we didn’t want to hear from people who disagreed with us. 

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That’s why, when I was invited to be on Talk Radio (as it was then) years later, followed by GB News and Talk TV, I thought it was the best place to make my argument.

You can’t win a debate if you’re unwilling to take part in it. You can silence those views using a nasty ad hominem attack but you haven’t proved your point to be correct. 

And personally, I’ve found there is a great benefit to debating with people who are from the other side of the spectrum.

For a start, you don’t know how strongly you believe your own position until you have had it tested. 

Only when you have someone tell you why they think you’re wrong can you ponder the controversial points, maybe do a little extra Googling, and come to a more solid conclusion. It has made me a better debater and probably more annoying at dinner parties. 

It’s not all smooth sailing, of course. 

As a stand-up comedian I work with many acts who are appalled that I appear on these TV networks. I even know of one performer who refused to do a gig because I was booked. 

I would have loved to have the discussion about my reasons to reach out to other audiences but I guess I’ll never meet them if they will never do the shows I do. 

I’m not saying that only the left should be willing to debate and maybe even kiss the right – the right needs to open up too. 

Granted, I have seen many right-wing pundits agree that the Tories have been failing, but they usually follow that up with a belief that Labour will be worse because ‘they’re Labour’. That’s more of a phobia than a reasoned response. 

Either way, if we don’t find a way to navigate this political divide we risk having a generation of people whose two main topics of chat with their friends will be how right they are about everything and how they can’t find a partner. 

If this is your first experience of a General Election then my advice to you is try to be open to the possibility that if someone disagrees with you they might not instantly be a fascist. 

Remember that, statistically, it’s unlikely that you’ll be right about everything 100% of the time. Believe me, there’s no harm in listening and it is OK to be friends with a Tory. 

And after this election they might just need a friend. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk

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