Leader comment: The Queen and Paddy Ashdown offer an exemplar for our divisive politics

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As head of state, the Queen must remain politically neutral. Unable by law to vote, Her Majesty is expected to treat politicians - regardless of their policies - without fear or favour.

And, during a 66 year reign in which she has seen 13 Prime Ministers come and go, the Monarch has lived up to this requirement.

But while the Queen refrains from commenting directly on political matters, anyone listening to her traditional Christmas Day address will surely detect the influence of the current political climate.

With Parliament - and, indeed, the nation - divided over the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, and military conflicts raging in parts of the world, the Queen’s insistence that the Christian message of goodwill to all is needed “as much as ever” will surely resonate.

We live in divisive times, with political opportunists across the spectrum seeking to exploit the tiniest of differences and pettiest of disagreements to further their agendas.

And so the Queen’s message that “even with the most deeply-held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding” could not be more timely.

It is easy to dismiss such sentiments as trite but the truth is our political leaders could do so much more to unite people. If those who would govern over us could act in good faith in their dealings with opponents, perhaps we could begin to build bridges across the divides which threaten to cause irreparable damage to our society.

When it was announced on Saturday night that the former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown had died, it was striking that bitter political rivals were united in their respect for him. Whether they agreed with his politics or not, opponents were certain we had a public servant who put country before party, people before ideology.

We must not allow ourselves to think the days of such political figures are gone, but we could certainly do with more men and women of his calibre in public life.

It is easy to believe our politics is damaged beyond repair, but if our leaders pay heed to the Queen’s words and keep in mind the standards maintained by Paddy Ashdown, perhaps 2019 might see the beginning of a new era of respect and unity. This is certainly worth striving for.