Is it possible to be friends with a Tory?

To what extent should the political views of someone colour your view of them?

I have been pondering this in the wake of the reaction to the appointment of Paolo DiCanio to the position of Head Coach by Sunderland FC. Paolo has in the past expressed sympathy for some of the policies of former Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in his auto-biography and, infamously, once appeared to make a Nazi salute while celebrating a goal.

I don’t believe he has spoken publicly on these matters although he may be forced to this week.

David Miliband, whose parents both left their homeland to escape, and then fight against, the Axis powers, has resigned his position on the Sunderland board in protest. I think this is entirely understandable.

I must also declare an interest. DiCanio is one of my favourite players.

As a follower of West Ham United since 1975 I have seen very few performers for the club that could get anywhere near him in terms of skill, imagination or passion. I would happily watch his goal v Wimbledon on a loop for several hours if invited to.

Di CanioDo I like his apparent political sympathies? Absolutely not. Does it taint my view of him as a footballer? No. But if he used the platform he has as a manager to promote them that would be a different story.

On 5 Live this morning, former player Pat Nevin doubted whether he could work under a manager who openly expressed such views in the workplace, but was also doubtful that they would be.

This is not uncommon to any of us. Within work, contentious issues are usually avoided. However, I have lost count of the times over the years that I have encountered views that I disagree with when socialising with colleagues outside working hours. I make a judgement as to their context, the environment and the other people there and react as I deem appopriate.

It was not always the case. School friends have told me that few would want to touch on anything political with me in my teens due to the potential for argument. I was vehement in my views and not very tolerant of any that didn’t tally with mine. I regret this now as I missed out on some potentially interesting conversations.

I was also prone to being extremely judgemental when someone in the public eye declared a political allegiance. Who remembers Kenny Everett’s appearance at the Tory conference in the 80’s? I never watched his show again after that and he was instantly “not funny” from then on.1983-everett_1393009b

Silly. (Although having watched recent retrospectives, I don’t find much that makes me laugh).

Declaring support for a political party shouldn’t really colour your judgement to that degree. I do however think this changes when someone uses their celebrity as a platform to promote contentious opinion.

I have yet to hear Carol Vorderman apologise for all the scaremongering guff she was happy to spout on television and radio about the “dangers” of the MMR vaccine a few years ago. Now the claims of Andrew Wakefield have been shown to have been based on nothing of any substance (see Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science” for a comprehensive debunking) and children are dying from measles I think is the least we should expect.

I certainly didn’t take her opinions seriously when she pitched up on Question Time.

One of the greatest benefits of doing my degree was having to listen and consider the views of others. It taught me not to take everything I wanted to believe on trust, to find proper evidence to back up my arguments and to respect sincerely held opinions that might conflict with mine – as long as some thought has gone it to them. Always reserving the right to challenge those with which I disagree.

Crucially, it also taught me that there is a time and a place for political argument.

Which means I am sure that I have plenty of friends who don’t share all my views. I have no clue as to how the majority vote but I do know that I enjoy their company. They clearly don’t find the occasional expression of my views too off putting either.

So if Paolo praises “Il Duce” in his press conferences or insists on changing Sunderland from the Black Cats to the Black Shirts then I’ll be the first to denounce him and call for his sacking. Until then I’ll judge him on what he’s being employed to do.

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