My best mate the Tory: Friendship on opposing ends of the political spectrum

i love my best friend but were on opposite ends of the political spectrum
My best mate the ToryJaime Lee/Getty

It’s been four tumultuous years since the Conservative party won the 2019 General Election by a massive majority with Boris Johnson at the helm. Three prime ministers, one pandemic and one cost-of-living crisis later and it’s fair to say a lot has changed. And that’s not to mention the decade prior, when the Conservatives were also in power, during a time of post-recession austerity, NHS crises and – of course – Brexit. In other words, the upcoming election is set to be the most significant in decades.

People are counting down the days until they can have their say at the ballot box, where the cost of living, the NHS and the economy are likely to be decisive factors. Housing, climate change and immigration are also topping the list of the voters’ priorities, based on ONS research into the public’s most pressing concerns.

Add to all these concerns, the fact that social media has made us even more polarised than ever, family WhatsApp groups have become among the most stressful places to hang out (Boomers V Millennials V Gen Z? It’s… a lot). And while that’s to be expected to a degree, what's it like if you don’t see eye-to-eye with your best friends on the political front? In an era when it’s almost impossible to escape debate – as it spills into our lives via TikTok, X, and other social media channels, like never before – and when politicians brand themselves as entertainers, attempting to distract from their countless controversies – there’s lots of scope for disagreement.

Cosmopolitan spoke to two sets of friends, each with opposing political beliefs, to discover how their differing views are impacting their relationships and ask how they navigate thorny topics.

“She supports the Tories but I’m a dedicated Labour voter”

charlotte and roberta smile for a photograph together in a garden
Roberta (left) and Charlotte (right)Charlotte Bitmead

Charlotte Bitmead, 28, and Roberta Blackford, 29, have been friends since the first day of secondary school. They both value their friendship and have kept in touch over the years.

Roberta has lived in Sydney, Australia since 2019, where she pursued a job opportunity following a break-up, but she plans to return home to the UK and continues to have her say via proxy vote. This year she will be voting, as she always does, for the Conservative party.

Charlotte, meanwhile, lives in London and describes herself as left-wing. She voted for the Conservative party once, the first year she was old enough to vote (in 2015, when David Cameron was elected Prime Minister), but she’s never voted for them since.

It’s just one of the friends’ many differences when it comes to their views, as Cosmopolitan discovered when we joined a group chat with the pair and invited them to explain their relationship via voice notes.

How would you describe your views on politics?

Charlotte: I would describe myself as very left wing. I’ve voted for both the Liberal Democrats and Labour in the past. I don't agree with Keir Starmer's whole Labour government at the moment, but I would say that they probably represent my viewpoints the best.

Although, with so many Conservatives defecting, like Natalie Elphicke and Dr Dan Poulter, the former MPs for Dover and Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, respectively, it's all just becoming a bit of a mish-mash of the same people. I'm not sure the party system even works at the moment.

When it comes to choosing who to vote for, I aim to choose for the benefit of everyone, rather than older people who are probably not going to have that many elections left. It seems insane to me that older people dictate how generations grow up, which is exactly what happened with Brexit, in my opinion.

I’m not on the property ladder or anywhere near the property ladder. I think the Conservatives are making [buying a home] absolutely impossible, unless you have a partner to foot the mortgage with or a massive loan from your parents.

london at dusk, big ben seen from westminster bridge with lights trails created by traffic on the right i blurry motion people on the left

Roberta: I am a Conservative. However, I don't know a whole lot about politics, if I'm being totally honest. But I would say the little that I do know, I'm definitely not Labour.

I would say Labour’s policies are sort of unrealistic. I think we should charge for the NHS. It's massively under strain at the moment and I think with a lot of migration, and how lax we are in terms of getting access to that free healthcare, I think people hugely take advantage of it.

It disadvantages people who really need it. People are in A&E with a cold which wouldn’t happen if they had to pay per visit. I think we should start charging, even just a tiny bit, so it’s valuable. People take advantage of things that are free.

Inheritance tax, that's a big thing too. I think it's really unfair that some people work really hard, or your parents work really hard, and then you're taxed 40%.

While I think the Conservative Party was a shambles when they led us through Covid, I think Labour would have been way worse. It would upset me if Labour came into power. I don’t think it would really affect me and my friendship group, including Charlotte. We would be quite shielded from it apart from, potentially, the inheritance tax thing.

Charlotte: No big surprise, I disagree with Rob greatly. I think we are greatly affected by Conservatives being in power.

Obviously, I've said about first time buyers. But there's also just the more practical, day-to-day things that would affect me, that I think Tories are so not on my level with, for instance, female reproductive rights.

I understand some Conservatives are pushing for a stricter agenda on abortion rights. For instance, Caroline Ansell, the outgoing Conservative MP for Eastbourne proposed to reduce the abortion limit to 22 weeks. Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the outgoing Conservative MP for North Somerset, proposed to outlaw abortion after 24 weeks of foetuses diagnosed with Down's syndrome. It feels very worrying to me, and would affect me greatly if I ever needed an abortion.

Do you discuss politics? If yes, have you ever fallen out over politics?

Charlotte: We have had some heated arguments, especially when we’re a bit drunk, but we haven’t fallen out over anything. We’ve always left the table talking. I think we’ve often been like, ‘We’re not going to agree, should we agree to disagree?’ I don't think I'd ever let it get in the way of our friendship, especially such a long standing one. Hopefully Rob feels the same.

Roberta: Maybe we've had some slightly raised voices conversations, but I would say that we would never have those raised voices if we hadn't had a bit to drink. And I think everyone gets more passionate when they have something to drink. Yeah, it really won't be anything that we've fallen out about.

Do you think you can be friends with someone with opposite views?

Roberta: I really do think you can be good friends with someone with completely opposite views. I mean, sometimes, yeah, you might think they're a hypocrite, or, you know, you just don't agree with them, but at the end of the day, that's not the foundation of your friendship. You became friends over other things.

Charlotte: I listen to the Rest is Politics podcast [hosted by Tony Blair’s former Director of Communications Alastair Campbell and former Conservative minister Rory Stewart], and I feel like the two hosts are a great example of how you can be on completely different sides of the equation, but you can also find mutual ground, and it's always good to hear the other person's opinion.

My problem is that I think with a lot of people, they don't actually know what's going on. I find it frustrating when you're debating with someone that doesn't know anything about the topic they're debating on, they're just adamant that it's not the right way or whatever, because they’re either following something their mates have said or believed [the views of] the particular news platform they’re following. That irritates me, because I don't feel like it's a fair debate.

If you know the subject you're talking about and you have a firm opinion, I can respect that. I might not agree with it, but I can respect it… but when it's just people regurgitating headlines or things that they've seen on the internet, it's frustrating.

“My best friend is refusing to vote in the election”

two women sitting at a table
Jen (left) and Rochelle (right)2peasonepodcast

Rochelle Raye Anthony, 37, and Jennifer Cowap, 32, have been friends for five years. They both became mothers around the same time as each other, and each appreciates the honesty the other brings to their relationship, whether they’re debating politics or another topic entirely. For the duo, having another mother to lean on – someone they can totally be themselves with – is invaluable.

While they’re aligned on so many fronts, Jen chooses not to vote, which comes in direct contrast to her pal, Rochelle, who thinks it’s vitally important for women to have their say. Both women declined to comment on the parties they currently support or have previously voted for, but they were open to sharing their stance on voting with Cosmopolitan, and how politics affects their friendship, in a candid phone call.

How would you describe your views on politics?

Rochelle: I always vote. I feel that it's such a privilege to have that opportunity to vote. Women died for their right to vote, and I'm so much about women's empowerment. So, I'm always going to use my voice wherever I can, otherwise I'll regret it. I'll look back and think I had a chance to make a change there, no matter how small my opinion was – it could have potentially helped get a party in or made a change in my children's lives.

Jen: The moment I was of age, I was up to date with what was going on, and I would vote religiously. But over the years I started to lose confidence in some of the parties I had previously voted for as it became clear that they had made certain promises within their manifestos that turned out to be unachievable and unrealistic.

Having children was the turning point for me. I used to be so focused and involved with what was going on politically, it was actually starting to to impact the time I was with my children. The thoughts were overwhelming my mind.

It's gotten to a point for me now where I actually don't vote and I know that I will get a lot of criticism for that. It's not that I am ignorant to what's going on now. But I decided that to protect my little bubble and to be a present mum, to take a step back. I don't have confidence in the political parties that I used to, and I have to stop myself from getting caught up in it, in order to be the best version of myself I can be for my kids.

stock image showing a woman's hand filling in a postal ballot voting form
Laurence Dutton

Are you planning to vote in the upcoming election?

Jen: There is a lot that needs to be sorted out. It's a bit of a minefield, to be honest. We know we're in a big crisis point at the moment, so it will be interesting to see what happens, but personally, no, I won't be voting this year.

I think Rochelle can completely respect that. I'll take it back to what Rochelle said, people have died for us to be able to vote. I'm not taking away from that at all. But again, it's my personal preference. It's about choice. That’s not to say that I won't be encouraging my children to vote one day.

Rochelle: I would always just regret it if I didn't vote. If everyone around the world had that opinion that their one vote wouldn't count, then we would never make any progress, and I have to think of my children's future. As a business owner, I have to think about policies that might potentially affect my business.

Do you discuss politics? If yes, have you ever fallen out over politics?

Jen: Yes, we chat about politics. We’ve just filmed an episode of our podcast – 2 Peas One Podcast – talking about my decision not to vote and Rochelle’s decision to vote. By no means is our relationship perfect in any way. But I think it's about acknowledging and taking accountability. I can speak for both myself and Rochelle and say that we're both really good at that. So I know if either I say something or Rochelle says something and the other person is upset or offended in any way, we don't hold on to it. We point it out straight away and say that didn't sit quite right with me. Then we have a healthy discussion around it and we move on.

Do you think you can be friends with someone with opposing political views?

Jen: We’re all entitled to our own opinions. There isn’t a right or wrong opinion when it comes to politics. We’re all allowed to make up our own minds and it’s about being respectful of everybody's differences.

Rochelle: If someone had a view about race, or was racist, then I would never be friends with them. But when it comes to politics, everyone is affected differently. It can be healthy to have chats and conversations where you learn. Life would be boring if everyone agreed with you all the time.

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