Why politicians need to meet people they don’t agree with

Alastair Somerville
3 min readMay 28, 2017


The 2017 General Election in the U.K. has reached new heights for national politicians (in the ruling Conservative Party particularly) avoiding meeting or talking with people who might disagree with them. There is good post by Craig Murray on why Theresa May’s discomfort and unwillingness to talk to voters shows how badly suited she is to negotiate Brexit.

This is an absolute failure for parliamentary democracy.

Meeting people who might disagree with you is a key test of what it is to be a politician.

If the only people you can talk to are people who agree with you then you are an ideologue not a politician.

Elections are a public examination for those people who think they can be professional politicians.

They can pass and they can fail.

But they need to take the test.

Hiding is not a respectable option. It is disrespectful of the electorate.

Meeting people who are awful today but friends tomorrow

Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein (ex-IRA) meeting the Queen, Prince Charles and Unionist leaders

This election is also full of chatter about politicians who meet the wrong kind of people at the wrong time.

This is also a basic failure to understand politics at a national and international level.

Meeting people who you cannot stand and who represent ideas that you think are repellent is also a key part of being a politician.

Simply knowing what you believe in cannot work in a world full of ideas drawn from alternative experiences.

Even more shockingly, true politicians have to find a way of respecting the repellent ideas of others.

Politicians have to be ahead of public opinion to create the futures that work for everyone.

Successful politicians are those who can understand how they mix their beliefs and hopes with those held by others. They need to hold both the popular and unpopular ideas.

The Conservative Party is full of people who know their own opinions and state how strongly they will not listen to and will walk away from the opinions of others.

That is the sign of ideologues who are not politicians.

Passing the test

We hold elections to find the politicians who can best represent the interests of all the citizens in our country. They need to be able to understand the needs of many people and sort through the contradictions and conflicts of those needs.

This is why politics is hard and deserves respect.

It is not business management. It is much harder.

However, the people who say they are politicians now are not politicians. They are fantasists who hold ideas so tightly that they cannot face talking to people who hold different ideas.

This is wrong. If a person cannot face talking to others they should not be elected to a political post.

They are not a politician if they cannot be politic.

They fail the test.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX