Dining across the divide: ‘He came in wearing a red beret. I thought: this is going to be very intense’

<span>Elijah (left) and Bob. All photographs: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian</span><span>Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian</span>
Elijah (left) and Bob. All photographs: Adrian Sherratt/The GuardianPhotograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Elijah, 36, Gloucester

Occupation Teacher at a small independent school

Voting record In the last three elections: Lib Dems, to keep Labour out; then Labour; then Conservative

Amuse bouche Was a member of Ukip in 2014, then joined the Labour party when Corbyn became leader in 2015

Bob, 67, Stroud

Occupation Mostly retired former social worker and therapist

Voting record Usually Labour, but has occasionally voted TUSC (trade unionist and socialist coalition)

Amuse bouche Is a member of Red Rope, a socialist climbing and hiking group

For starters

Elijah So, he came in wearing a red beret and a red cravat, and I thought: “Oh my goodness. This is going to be very intense. He’ll be fire-breathing communism on me, and berating me.”

Bob I thought: “If I’ve got some ardent rightwinger to deal with, I’m going to go for it.” It wasn’t like that. It was like a date. We exchanged numbers at the end.

Elijah We had flatbread and tzatziki, olives and some sort of sausage thing.

Bob I had vegetarian linguine and two halves of IPA, and Elijah had a cocktail.

The big beef

Bob I talked about Lenin and how he transformed society, and then Stalin came – I’m not a Stalinist, I’m not a state capitalist. He kept pinning me down: show me an example of where socialism has worked. I talked about Spain before the civil war, and Allende’s Chile. These are social democratic movements that have been so threatening to capitalism that they’ve been snuffed out. I wonder what that’s about?

Elijah Originally, I’m an engineer, so I’m very stats-based: I haven’t found any country that tried full socialism and you could say was thriving economically. You could point to Nordic socialism, but anything past that didn’t seem to work. Bob didn’t really try to tell me “No, there are countries”: he was dismissive of the USSR, he called that state-controlled capitalism. He’s very much hoping for something that hasn’t been proved on any large scale anywhere.

Bob I said to him: “Look, I don’t believe that capitalism has any answers to global warming. It has to change, we have to think about different alternatives, we have to think about zero growth.” And he said: “I can’t think about that, because growth is the only way I can look after my family.”

Elijah He thinks we’re running out of room for growth. I’m mixed on that. You would have thought capitalism was on the wane at the time of the corn laws, but then the Industrial Revolution came along and everything changed. It’s possible that we have no conception of what the next twist in the road will be.

Sharing plate

Elijah I said: “If you raise taxes, the rich will just leave.” He accepted that in the short term that is what would happen. I’m not sure I want that belt-tightening for the next 10, 15 years, if all the rich people leave. And I realised: “Shit, that’s a very interesting point to make when I voted for Brexit, fully aware that it might take five, 10 years for that to work out.”

Bob I was a marginal remainer. I have a belief in countries having their own independence, I just thought European capitalism was better than UK capitalism. I said: “I want my children to have free movement. They won’t have that. Nor will yours.” He didn’t have a lot to say to that. He thought we’d recover from Brexit. I said: “Well, we don’t seem to be recovering very well.”

For afters

Elijah Neither of us like venture capitalism. I think it’s terrible – that you can borrow money to buy a company and then not pay tax because you borrowed the money.

Bob We talked about Lord Bathurst, how the family made their money through slavery, got compensated when slavery was abolished, own all this land at Cirencester Park, and are now charging people £4 to walk across it. We both thought that was terrible.


Bob I was a bit wary, because I thought he was going to be a neo-fascist. But we really relaxed into a great conversation.

Elijah I never thought I would want to meet up again. But actually I want to hear and understand him better. It was very cathartic. I have in the past called people who hold socialist views economically illiterate. It’s that kind of dismissiveness that’s permeating our culture, and I don’t want to be that person.

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

• Bob and Elijah ate at Greek on the Docks, Gloucester. Want to meet someone from across the divide? Find out how to take part