Dining across the divide: ‘She thinks there shouldn’t be private schools - but banning them would be authoritarian’

He is in favour of private schools, she sees education as the biggest social divider. Will they be friends by home time?

Gareth, 53, London

Head shot of dining across the divider Gareth

Occupation Employment lawyer

Voting record Centre left and has voted Labour, but backed the Lib Dems last time. “I hated Brexit, I hated Boris, but I hated Jeremy Corbyn even more”

Amuse bouche As thanks for working on a case, Mohamed Al Fayed once gave him a bull’s testicles, plus instructions for cooking them. “They were like human balls but 20 times the size, with veins”

Jemima, 31, London

Head shot of dining across the divider Jemima

Occupation Master’s student

Voting record Labour. Would vote Green, “but it feels a bit pointless”. Describes herself as “very liberal”

Amuse bouche Having just moved to Spain, Jemima was looking after a dog and it escaped and ran into a wedding. “I spoke no Spanish then, the dog didn’t listen to me, and I was chasing it around”

For starters

Gareth Jemima was there already, chatting to the photographer. I didn’t realise who he was and wondered whether I had been set up on a sort of three-way experiment.

Jemima Gareth’s like a toy that’s been wound up, full of energy, which was fun because I can be like that, too. We immediately started chatting about football – there was no awkwardness.

Gareth We are in different places in life and have taken different courses. I’m a product of the commercial world, she has worked in refugee camps.

Jemima I think he thought I would be an outrageous, free-loving hippy, but I’m actually pragmatic and a realist.

Dining across the dividers Jemima (left) and Gareth

The big beef

Gareth She thinks there shouldn’t be private schools. I wouldn’t want to live in a society where we banned them – that would be authoritarian. I went to a private school, my kids went to state primary and private secondary schools.

Jemima The biggest social divider is education. Finland supposedly has the best system in the world and they don’t have private schools. I went to a state school until I was 16, did well and a teacher said I should go to a grammar school to challenge me. It was awful, such a poisonous environment, because it was just about performance, we were segregated by sex, and politics wasn’t an option in the girls’ school.

Gareth I don’t think state schools are flexible enough to offer the education that, for example, a child with severe dyslexia needs. Large organisations are innately not innovative, and what free societies do, what capitalism does, is innovate. State schools can benefit because they can see what private schools are doing and – to the extent they have the resources – learn from that.

Jemima All children should be able to have a really good education provided by the state. It also pisses me off that so many prime ministers went to Eton – not just a private school, but you have to have a penis to go there. I don’t understand how we think it’s OK to make education both elitist and sexist.

Dining across the dividers Jemima (left) and Gareth

Sharing plate

Jemima We agreed on leaving people alone to lead their lives. We agreed on nuance – don’t trust anyone who tells you something is definite or that there is a certain answer.

Gareth We both speak Spanish. Jemima’s boyfriend is Dutch, from Scheveningen. I’ve just come back from a two-week holiday there with my kids.

Dining across the dividers Jemima (left) and Gareth

For afters

Gareth She’s one of the generation who were enthused by Corbyn, singing “Ooh Jeremy Corbyn” at Glastonbury. He was idiotic and economically illiterate. And there was the antisemitism – the mural, laying a wreath at a terrorist’s tomb, the fixation with Israel; we got to a point where you could not be Jewish and in the Labour party. I’m Jewish – I know antisemitism when I see it.

Jemima Of course antisemitism or any form of xenophobia in a political party is outrageous. But I thought Jeremy Corbyn was hounded by the press: “He doesn’t wear a suit, doesn’t sing the national anthem.” I hate identity politics – I’d rather vote for ideas than people.

Gareth You don’t know what is going to come across your desk as prime minister. No one was predicting the Ukraine war; in that situation what does electoral choice mean, other than “Is this the right person to deal with it?” Look at Trump – his policies are dangerous, so is his personality. It’s highly relevant.

Dining across the dividers Jemima (left) and Gareth


Jemima I’m studying conflict mediation because I believe in the immense power of talking to people. We disagreed on some stuff, but it made for an interesting conversation. We should all do this.

Gareth I had a lot to learn from Jemima, and she was interested in what I had to say, so it was a very pleasurable evening.

Dining across the dividers Jemima (left) and Gareth

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

• Gareth and Jemima ate at The Don in London

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


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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