Dining across the divide: ‘He talked about his hatred of communism a lot’

A Brexit-voting diplomat and a remainer NHS worker lock horns over social justice – but will they agree on the ills of social media?

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Charles, 67, Bournemouth


Occupation Former diplomat turned speech writer

Voting record Always Conservative. Charles voted for Brexit: “I was one of the few diplomats who did”

Amuse bouche While working overseas, Charles borrowed some wallabies for a reception for Foster’s lager. “No one had seen one at a diplomatic party before”

Chris, 34, Bournemouth


Occupation Complaints adviser for an NHS trust

Voting record Always Labour, and remain in the EU referendum

Amuse bouche Chris much prefers Grease 2 to Grease. “It’s deeper, stronger, a feminist film, and the songs are better”

Chris and Charles talking at a restaurant table

For starters

Chris We had a chat about what we did. He told me the places he’s been and the things he’s done. It wasn’t intimidating, but I did think: “I’m over my head a bit.”

Charles I asked what Chris’s motivating principle is, where he comes from when he’s approaching anything. He said something like sympathy, empathy, passion, those sort of words. I come from a place which is more about the consent of the governed – under what basis are rules set, and who sets them? That’s a big foundational disagreement, you might say, between heart and head.

Chris and Charles talking at a restaurant table

The big beef

Chris Our biggest difference was in how we view the world and how we want to change it. For me it’s more about rights, social justice, wanting a fairer and more equal society. He talked a lot about his hatred of communism.

Charles I have lived in communist countries and seen the results. The idea is that the end justifies the means; there are no limits to government. The spirit of communism is alive and well, and pops up in all sorts of places – in some of these cancel culture things, the ideological uniformity in US universities, for example.

Chris He said the reason he didn’t like the left is that they are mean-spirited and always assume the worst in people. That’s my experience of the right.

Charles What I dislike is the angry, aggressive, obnoxious left. Chris didn’t seem to be part of that at all – he seemed to have a libertarian instinct of some sort, which was fine. We could sit down and talk about ideas.

Chris and Charles talking at a restaurant table

Sharing plate

Chris We agreed about how divided and tribal the country is in the way we talk about issues, and how that is driven by social media.

Charles Everyone is living in echo chambers and the algorithms are making it worse. They serve up the stuff they know you like because they want to send you advertising.

Chris and Charles talking at a restaurant table

For afters

Chris We talked about taking the knee, which I support if someone wants to show their solidarity with people who suffer racism in football. It became a thing in 2020 and 2021 when enmity and violence against the black community was a world issue. If it had been before George Floyd was murdered by the police, and people just said they wanted to show solidarity and drive out racism, I don’t think it would have had that much attention.

Charles You’ve got all these people taking the knee. What attitude do you take to the people who don’t take the knee? The way it’s presented is that if you somehow challenge it, or laugh, or boo or whatever you do to show your disapproval, then you are ipso facto a racist. It’s a sort of all-or-nothing view, and that to me is obnoxious.

Chris It’s not just a leftwing issue. Poppy outrage is driven by the right. Every year, TV presenters get complaints if they’re not seen to be wearing poppies or not wearing them early enough.

Charles Chris hit back over the net pretty well there, but it’s not clear to me that it’s analogous. If you don’t wear a poppy, I don’t go around saying you’re anti-patriotic; there’s no mass movement of people demanding everyone wears poppies in the same way as you would be attacked if you said taking the knee was ridiculous.

Chris and Charles talking at a restaurant table


Chris I was a little bit disappointed afterwards because I didn’t feel I had said enough. I felt he bamboozled me a bit. At one point I thought: “What am I doing here? I have nothing to say.”

Charles He seemed to go away with some things he hadn’t thought about before, and to some degree I did, too. I don’t know if he’s a vegan or a vegetarian, but he seemed unimpressed by his courgettes, which made me warm to him, because everyone’s unimpressed by courgettes.

Chris and Charles talking at a restaurant table

Additional reporting: Sarah Hooper

• Charles and Chris ate at Arbor at The Green House, Bournemouth

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Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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