Article - Building trust and coalitions

I have been spending a certain amount of time over recent months trying to find the common ground between Members of Parliament from different parties and with different opinions on the best way to solve the Brexit impasse. 

This work of reconciliation has reminded me forcibly of the days of the coalition government when my life consisted mainly of efforts to ensure that issues arising between the two sides of the coalition were smoothly and sensibly resolved.

I have to say that, looking back on those happy days, I am struck by how much easier we found it to do business sensibly with one another than has proved possible in these days, at least when it comes to cooperation between the Government and the front bench of the Opposition.

There are, of course, many differences between the situation we faced as we painfully emerged from the financial crash in the years 2010-2015 and the situation the country now faces. But I don’t think that the difference in the situations is as fundamental as the difference in emotional attitude. 

The commodity that made the coalition a viable and effective government was trust. Even when the two sides of the coalition disagreed with one another, as we often did, there was personal trust between us. This had many positive effects - the most important of which was the fact that it enabled us to be frank about our differences and frank about the reasons for the differences. 

My experience is that when two people are able to explain to each other the reasons for their differences in an atmosphere of mutual trust, resolutions of those differences are not far off. As the French say: to understand is to forgive. 

But of course, this feature of political relationships is just as present - perhaps even more present in the relationships that form the bedrock of our lives - namely, the relationships with our friends and, above all, with our families. 

I was reminded of this when I went recently to visit one of the West Dorset Contact Centres. 

The volunteers who run these Contact Centres are amongst the unsung heroes of our society. They are exactly the sort of people that one immediately trusts because they are so evidently balanced and honest, and also because they are so evidently trying to help others rather than trying to play games for their own purposes. 

But the work that they do is ferociously difficult because it takes place in circumstances where the most fundamental kinds of trust have entirely broken down. 

The aim of the centres is to enable children living with one parent to make contact with, and then gradually to build up or build back a relationship with an absent parent. 

This involves painstaking effort to rebuild at least some trust between the two parents, and to establish at least the beginnings of some trust between the child and the absent parent - often astonishingly difficult tasks. 

I came away both touched and inspired. Could there be anything better or more important than work such as the Contact Centres do?