COUNCILLORS are hoping to spread some compassion after seeing first-hand how divided residents have become.

At the meeting on Tuesday, May 20, members of Cheshire West and Chester Council spoke out about the disillusionment they were met with on the doorstep in the run-up to this month’s elections – as well as vitriolic abuse being spread both online and on the streets.

CWaC members unanimously agreed to sign up to the Charter for Compassion – which promotes respect, equality, diversity and peace.

Rahima Ahmed, of the West Cheshire Interfaith Forum, urged councillors to lead by example.

She said: “I’ve been a resident in Cheshire West for just under 40 years. I have lived here, I have worked here, my children have grown up here, my mum is getting old in this borough as well.

“I have experienced the benefit of living here. I have also increasingly experienced the not so good things – and it doesn’t help with the [European] elections that are going to happen [on Thursday].

“How can we go on hating each other? I don’t think that’s the way forward, it’s very tiring. I think the best way of going forward is by finding a bit of compassion.

“A compassionate borough will make people feel inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – and it’s for everybody, residents and businesses, we can all thrive together.”

The proposal to sign up to the charter was made by Cllr Louise Gittins, CWaC’s new Labour leader, who spoke out about the rise of division and anger which has become prevalent in recent months.

She said: “I don’t know about you, but I found door-knocking to be a particular challenge this year – a change in just the last 12 months.

“There are many disillusioned and angry people. People who feel they are not being listened to and have been left behind by what is increasingly seen as a remote government, as they see us as representatives of that system.

“We have become a divided society and we need to change. The number of hate crimes in the borough alone is reaching a staggering level, not just on social media, but also face to face. We are seeing a frightening rise in the far right and extremist views preying on people’s fears.

“Every day on social media, videos of outrageous behaviour, racism, sexism, homophobia – why have we as a society come to this?”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother and project manager for Thomson Reuters, has been detained by Iran on spying charges for three years after she visited the country to see her family.

She is Cllr Jill Houlbrook’s cousin’s daughter-in-law, and the Conservative member for Upton told councillors the Charter for Compassion was ‘quite personal’ for her as a result, because Nazanin has been ‘imprisoned in a not very compassionate manner at all’.

She added: “We won’t always agree in this council chamber, we haven’t always agreed, and that is going to continue – but that doesn’t mean to say that when we treat one another with disagreement, we treat one another with disrespect.

“This country actually has come to quite a sorry state over the last few weeks and every time I look at social media my heart drops and I think ‘what have we become? What kind of example are we setting to one another, to our children, to our grandchildren, and to other countries?’.

“How can we – as a nation, as a borough, as individuals – criticise places like Iran for what they are doing to their political prisoners if we behave in the way that some of us are behaving in this country?”

Cllr Charles Fifield, Conservative member for Weaver and Cuddington, also supported the call to become a compassionate council – and suggested members could use it to ‘learn to agree to disagree’.

He said: “Compassion, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder and we have got to be careful that we don’t start becoming holier than thou.

“There are many things that we would all agree are right and there are many things that we would all agree are wrong, but there is a lot in the middle, and we have to think what compassion means.”