Dining across the divide: ‘When he mentioned the economic benefits of the EU, my response was: for whom?’

They are both on the left, but could they agree on Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership qualities or whether Keir Starmer is an eel?

Thomas, 27, Worcester

Occupation Data analyst

Voting history Describes himself as a socialist but has usually voted Lib Dem as where he is they are most likely to beat the Tories. Leave in the EU referendum

Amuse bouche Became a licensed ordained minister in Minnesota so he could conduct his sister-in-law’s wedding

Peter, 70, Stanton in Peak, Derbyshire

Occupation Retired headteacher

Voting record Describes himself as a “radical progressive” and votes Labour. In the EU referendum he voted remain

Amuse bouche When Peter started teaching, in London, he went for a meal with colleagues and encountered langoustines for the first time, “not knowing the shell had to be taken off. Very crunchy!”

For starters

Peter He probably thought, “Oh my God, what have we got here – some old bloke who’s going to ramble on.” He was a delightful young man.

Thomas Peter is a lovely chap. He talks and walks in a very headteacherly way. We were arguing from left positions, but I’m slightly more to the left than he is.

Peter No! I don’t think anyone I’ve ever met is further to the left than me.

The big beef

Peter Our biggest area of disagreement was that he voted for Brexit and I voted against it.

Thomas I think the EU is a neoliberal club. It’s pro austerity, anti trade union, undemocratic and against public ownership of companies. Being part of the EU is incompatible with a socialist agenda.

Peter I understand the Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn stance on the EU. We can see what is wrong with it, democratically. We saw what happened in Greece. But the interesting inconsistency is that both Benn and Corbyn always used to say: you don’t leave the Labour party if you don’t agree; you stay within the tent. Same with the EU – you don’t leave and become this separate socialist outcast island. We’ve lost contact with Erasmus, potentially with human rights protections, we’ve lost 5% of our GDP – this is not defensible.

Thomas When he mentioned the economic benefits of the EU, my response was: economic benefits for whom? Economic benefits for business. I argued that if you had a socialist agenda but were part of the EU you couldn’t do a lot of things that socialism would want. I don’t like the fact Brexit was used by the right, co-opted by Boris Johnson and co as a vehicle for self-interest. In every conversation I have about it there has to be a big disclaimer: don’t lump me in with that lot.

Sharing plate

Thomas My personal philosophies are very much aligned with Jeremy Corbyn – he would have been a brilliant leader.

Peter We both had great respect for Corbyn, but while he was undeniably an excellent constituency MP, for me he didn’t clearly have the qualities of oratory and leadership to be party leader and therefore, by implication, national leader.

Thomas Keir Starmer is like Blair 2.0. It feels as if he will say and do anything to get into 10 Downing Street. He’s like jelly, liquid. Peter described him as an eel, and that’s a view I share.

For afters

Thomas I believe in proportional representation, strong employee rights, strong unions, public services, high taxes for the rich, windfall taxes on businesses, all the good stuff. I believe in socialist values.

Peter I don’t use the term “socialism”. Conservatives use it as a term of abuse. It is a dying term, misunderstood and misused.

Thomas I think Peter is a secret socialist. He’s well versed, he’s read his Marx. But he wouldn’t budge on calling himself a socialist. He just doesn’t want to wear the badge.

Peter Democracy embraces equal opportunity, equal rights, equality of power and control. For me, the essence of what socialism is about is basically democracy.


Peter It was utterly fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable to be with such a reflective and thinking young person. We stuck it out for three hours without it being in any way strained.

Thomas In a world of identity politics and division, it was very pleasant to find that even though he and I are from different generations we actually see eye to eye on a lot of stuff. More fool those who engage in identity politics.

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

• Peter and Thomas ate at La Galleria in Birmingham

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

• This article was amended on 4 August 2023 to correct Peter’s age. He is 70, not 79.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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