Dining across the divide: ‘I was at Oxford, and people had to walk past a statue of a coloniser every day’

They might agree on Jeremy Corbyn, but are they as closely aligned on colonialism or the monarchy?


Derren, 52, East Grinstead, West Sussex

Occupation Senior estimator at a demolition company

Voting record Lib Dem recently. Has voted Conservative, and would again, but not for the foreseeable future

Amuse bouche Derren has a black belt in Wing Chun kung fu


Gayatri, 28, London

Occupation Commercial litigation solicitor

Voting record Pretty consistently Labour, but once Green in a Labour safe seat

Amuse bouche Is in a community choir, where she’s the youngest by some decades

For starters

Derren I had steak, and it was very nice. It had a marrowbone and shallot gravy, a vegetarian’s nightmare, delicious. Chocolate mousse for pudding.

Gayatri We both had steak and shared a cauliflower dish. We started off with general chit-chat about where we grew up. I’m from Yorkshire but you can’t tell that from my accent.

Derren We got on really, really well.

Gayatri and Derren sitting at a restaurant table talking

The big beef

Gayatri He’s got an interesting perspective, he’s Anglo-Burmese; mine is different as a British Indian. His point was that colonialism is so long in the past that we should move on, while acknowledging that it was inexcusable. He wanted to look forward, not back. My point was that all those countries that were colonised are still feeling the repercussions. You need that step of education, and we don’t even have the bare minimum of learning about the British colonial past on the curriculum.

Derren I don’t think we should apologise for it. We will have to, in time. But I don’t know if the time is right. My take on it was, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the British empire, and I’d much rather be here than in Myanmar. But we both said it’s foolish to think that we were the good guys. The same with statues: don’t take them down, but have plaques on them saying: “These people did this, but they also did this.” Have truthful stuff, the good and the bad.

Gayatri I was at Oxford, and people in college had to walk past a coloniser every day, without any understanding of the place that person might have had in the slave trade. It’s allowing people to walk around in ignorance if they’re portrayed as history in the college statuary. It’s upsetting for those who are aware of what they did, walking past those statues, and it’s putting them on a pedestal for those who aren’t.

Derren The disagreements were quite subtle. She’s very good at putting her point across. She’s a lawyer, you can see how she thinks really clearly.

Gayatri and Derren sitting at a restaurant table talking

Sharing plate

Gayatri We talked about the state of the Labour party, and how I wasn’t a massive fan of Keir Starmer. I find him quite ineffective. Derren thinks it’s almost a legacy of Jeremy Corbyn, that Keir has to tread very carefully to avoid alienating voters.

Derren What Gayatri was saying was: what does Keir Starmer stand for at the moment? I get that. I’d read his speech that day and was thinking, “Blimey.” But in his defence, he’s got to tread a very thin line to get elected and not upset the Labour lot and the “red wall”. Corbyn was too radical, too extreme. I did say I sort of blamed him partly for Brexit and Boris Johnson.

Gayatri We did agree that Corbyn wasn’t necessarily an effective leader but was a principled person.

Gayatri and Derren sitting at a restaurant table talking

For afters

Derren I’m not a particularly big monarchist, but I’m not anti them either. I’m sure it will be phased out eventually, but I don’t think it will be for a little while yet. I still quite like the institution, I respect it. King Charles knows he’s privileged and he’s trying to acknowledge the privilege.

Gayatri I would be quite happy to get rid of the royals. I think Derren understood why I was against the monarchy: I brought up the fact that we’re all subjects rather than citizens; there’s a layer of people who are above us, and we can’t do anything about it. We talked about how both of us felt unexpectedly sad when we heard about the Queen’s passing.

Gayatri and Derren sitting at a restaurant table talking


Gayatri I think on most things I was surprised by the level of agreement between us. He kept a very open mind, which was nice – it meant we could bounce ideas off each other.

Derren It was surreal – every now and then I had to pinch myself, thinking, “God, I’m having dinner with someone I don’t know.” Lovely dinner, great place, no awkward moments. It was really fun.

Gayatri and Derren sitting at a restaurant table talking

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

• Gayatri and Derren ate at Isla at the Standard, London WC1.

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Zoe Williams

The GuardianTramp

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