Dining across the divide: ‘It was like a conversation with my grandad 40 years ago’

Did a Tory and a Green who disagreed on the cost of living crisis and statues really spend a very enjoyable evening together?

Cait, 52, Suffolk


Occupation IT worker

Voting record Used to vote Labour, then Lib Dem; now she votes Green and is a member of the party. Voted remain in the EU referendum

Amuse bouche Cait is walking round the coast of Britain, in weekend chunks

Carolyn, Suffolk (her age is a secret)


Occupation Retired nurse, works in education

Voting record Carolyn was active in the Young Conservatives, has voted Lib Dem, but then returned to the Tories. Voted leave in the EU referendum

Amuse bouche Worked for the Salvation Army in post-Communist Russia

For starters

Cait She looked lovely; I thought there might be a strong Tory backbone there. She’s a very good conversationalist.

Carolyn It was like we’d known each other for ages. I’m much further right. I’m more establishment, privately educated, my parents were in business.

Carolyn and Cait

Sharing plate

Cait We started talking about television and I thought: this is a good time to bring in the trans stuff. I said I’d had Netflix until a couple of days ago when I’d watched 10 minutes of Ricky Gervais’s new comedy special and then unsubscribed.

Carolyn She was upset by a Ricky Gervais routine. I didn’t know about it. I could see she was trans but I didn’t bring it up. Why would I? She didn’t say, “Oh, you’re a white British woman.”

Cait Carolyn was wonderful and fine about it.

Carolyn Working in health and in education, I have had experience of people transitioning. I think there are occasions when people want to transition because they think it is an answer to other problems. But we also discussed someone I know of who’s transitioning, and in that case I was almost relieved because they were clearly in the wrong body.

Cait We did keep saying, “This is rubbish for the Guardian.” Luckily our political difference, and statues, saved the day.

Carolyn and Cait

The big beef

Cait We talked about the cost of living crisis and I mentioned the number of people in poverty.

Carolyn There’s poverty and there’s relative poverty. There’s been a lot of talk about young people and adults who can’t afford period products. I have seen that in my work but in a lot of cases it’s a choice. So you might have somebody ordering Starbucks coffee delivered by Just Eat, and an hour later they’ll be going to the charity box for period products.

Cait If there are people playing the system, that’s OK provided nobody goes hungry, whereas she’s concerned with the people playing the system.

Carolyn Young people are copying celebrity culture. There are a lot of must haves, a £40 set of nails say, if they haven’t got them they feel impoverished. I think the welfare system is sometimes too generous. I have worked in a special school and had children tell me their parents don’t work: having two children with special needs means they get plenty of money. And they’ve all got the latest iPhones.

Cait It was like a conversation with my grandad about 40 years ago.

Carolyn and Cait

For afters

Carolyn All the statues should stay, because they’re there already. Are we going to go up north and rip down cities built on the back of child labour?

Cait She also said: “Are they going to take down pictures of Henry VIII in the National Portrait Gallery because he chopped his wives’ heads off?” There is a difference, because in Bristol, if you are from a West Indian background, it’s probably not nice to have to walk past the public veneration of that person [Edward Colston]. We did touch on Margaret Thatcher’s statue because she recently got egged. It’s good that her disciples can go and worship, and the people who weren’t so keen can go and throw eggs at her. An opportunity for all.

Carolyn It’s a bit like free speech, so as long as you don’t damage the statue …

Carolyn and Cait


Cait The things we disagreed on were a mixture of personal and analytical. We weren’t going to be changing our minds over them. We were very calm, we listened, we were respectful of each other. We wouldn’t have been able to have the conversation we had over social media. We were there for five hours!

Carolyn People are threatened by what they don’t understand and haven’t experienced. More people should take time to sit down with trans people and actually get to know them because they might be very surprised. It was astonishing how much middle ground we had. She’s a nice, sensitive person – it was a very enjoyable evening.

Carolyn and Cait

• Cait and Carolyn ate at Aurora, in Ipswich, Suffolk

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Find out how to take part


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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