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Ironic, I know, but in the middle of a heatwave and on one of the hottest days of the year, I had a very telling conversation in a sauna earlier this week.

As part of my twice weekly swim/spa routine, after twenty lengths of the pool and a steam, I then have a sauna and lastly a jacuzzi (healthy showers between each activity of course). All sounds luxurious I know, but trust me, the swim knocks me out completely and by the time I've been through the rest of it I look and feel like I've been run over by a bus. It's all part of that constant third-age battle to remain as active as possible for as long as possible. Never, ever give up!

At the sauna point of the 'fiasco' I often have a chat to a lovely gentleman who regularly goes through a similar routine but without the swimming. Basically, he stays fit by sitting around, and why not - good luck to him - I'm probably reading the wrong self-help stuff.

Anyway, starting the 'small talk' this week, I couldn't help commenting on the state of the race to become prime minister. "I'm worried about all those promises to cut taxes. Sounds good I suppose, but tax cuts mean less government spending and the poor usually pay for that through austerity. After the last two years, the last thing the poor and the vulnerable need is more austerity. In that respect, Sunak is at least being straight with folk. As I understand it, all the others are promising tax cuts with no explanation how".

"Doesn't surprise me. Sunak is a blue-suited socialist" came the gentleman's response.

I sat dazed, confused and rubbing my (by this time) extremely sweaty forehead.

I've been outside party politics for a few years now but his comment took me back to Blair and Brown and the accusations of them being Tories.

It's hard to imagine Sunak being a socialist. Please understand, I'm not one to chastise someone for being wealthy, I'm with Gary Neville on that matter - aspirations are good and why shouldn't anyone get on and do well.

No it's hard to imagine Sunak as a socialist because he's a Conservative party member, he's been a leading part of a Conservative government in recent years and he's running in the hope of becoming a future Conservative Prime Minister.

Does he have a social conscience? If he does, surely that's to be welcomed, especially during a 'spiralling cost of living' era. But a socialist? I think not!

However, this blunt, throw away response during a polite conversation in a sauna said so much about the polarised politics that developed over the past decade.

The middle ground almost disappeared at one point. No-one was singing the moderate man's song, whether he was moderate Labour or moderate Conservative. You were a far left Corbynista or a far right Borista. There was nothing in between and anyone who voiced that concern was simply scoffed at.

Coincidentally, I can evidence this 'moderation gap' through another personal 'friendship' that developed with a former policeman who regularly swims at the same spa. Several years ago we started to chat in a similar way about the politics of the day. He turned out to have been a Conservative leaning supporter in the past and historically I'd been a very strong Labour supporter. Both of us, I hope, perfectly decent chaps and both of us desperately wanting things to moderate. None of our personal, individual political values had changed but we both felt those two 'main' political parties had moved further to the extremes and those espousing anything like moderate views (on either side) were chastised as somehow 'soft, weak or stupid'.

Like him or loathe him, Starmer is a move in a more moderate/centre direction for Labour. I hope the Conservative party uses the election process they're going through to move in a more moderate/centre direction too.

There will always be differences in party political policies and future direction to debate, and yes - to passionately fight for - but maybe, just maybe, we can take some unnecessary and pointlessly nasty heat out of politics.

This is no pathetic plea for people to be nice and work together. Robust debate is a cornerstone of our democracy and I want more of that - it's how we make the very best decisions.

No more lies, bluster or contemptuous deceit please, it's time to cool down.


Clive Hart
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