Dining across the divide: ‘I couldn’t get on board with her equating the Taliban and the democratic government of Ukraine’

<span>Anna and Phil. All photographs: Jill Mead/The Guardian</span><span>Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian</span>
Anna and Phil. All photographs: Jill Mead/The GuardianPhotograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Anna, 50, Canterbury

Occupation Teacher of English as a foreign language

Voting record Labour, despite coming from “a Maggie Thatcher-adoring family”

Amuse bouche Anna once met an unnamed celebrity backstage at Reading festival. “And we had a bit of a snog but he left half his dinner in my mouth”

Phil, 38, Brighton

Occupation Marketing for an education union

Voting record Labour, but has also voted LibDem: “I tend to vote tactically against the Conservatives”

Amuse bouche Phil used to be a personal trainer and once appeared on Channel 4, training sports presenter Rishi Persad for a charity horse race

For starters

Anna I was early. I was expecting an EDL supporter with tattoos. Phil wasn’t like that. He’s a very amenable man, with really beautiful skin.

Phil Anna was incredibly friendly, incredibly talkative. We started with non-alcoholic cocktails but about halfway through, because it was going well, we both had a negroni. It was a tasting menu including a sort of mushroom broth that was delicious, monkfish in a chilli sauce, and for dessert what looked like an egg, but was a saffron mousse, which was fun.

The big beef

Anna I don’t think we should arm Ukraine. Fourteen years ago they wanted to be closer to Russia. It’s only because Zelenskiy is there now that we think they want to be closer to Europe. If we give them weapons, and the leadership changes, those weapons could then be used against Poland, against the former Soviet bloc.

Phil Ukraine has a reasonably stable western democracy and wanted to look more towards the EU and Nato. And Russia is becoming more authoritarian, heading back to a cold war situation. It’s the duty of western nations to protect against that.

Anna When Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the CIA and MI5 armed the mujahideen against Russia. So they basically armed the Taliban. I’m not directly comparing them, I’m saying that attitude and mindset can switch very quickly. It’s heartbreaking what’s happening. I feel bad about saying we shouldn’t arm Ukraine; I work with Ukrainian refugees.

Phil I understand she sees risk. But I couldn’t get on board with her equating those two things: the mujahideen and the Taliban, and the democratic government of Ukraine. Yes, it could go wrong. I’m not overly optimistic that Ukraine will win. But we’re not sending troops in, it feels like a reasonably low risk thing to do, to provide weapons.

Related: Dining across the divide: ‘The Lords needs reform – people shouldn’t just be put there by Boris Johnson’

Sharing plate

Anna We both grew up overseas. I’m from a military family, I was born in Germany, then my family moved to Kuwait. I was evacuated from there before the first Gulf war as a teenager.

Phil My dad was in the oil industry. So I was brought up around the world and went to a lot of American international schools.

Anna We agreed that you get more mellow as you get older. And we both listen to the podcast of Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart.

Phil The Rest is Politics came up as an example of people finding common ground, trying to fight polarisation.

For afters

Anna The royal family is a necessary marker of our British identity. People outside, looking in, say, “Oh you’re British, how do you feel about the royal family?” They never say, “Do you like fish and chips?” It’s like a mascot or a totem – how else do we define ourselves as being British?

Phil I’m not a monarchist for similar reasons. If that family with all its dysfunctions and issues is what people think of when they think of Britain, I’m not happy with that. I don’t like what the royal family says about meritocracy or the lack thereof.


Anna Phil was gentle, kind and very well read. So it wasn’t difficult to discuss things without shouting.

Phil Since Brexit became so toxic, I have mainly isolated myself with people I agree with, and I actually miss good-natured debate. I might have struggled with someone who believed every conspiracy theory on YouTube, but it actually made me hopeful that were I to converse with someone with whom I had greater disagreements, it might not be as unpleasant as I would have feared.

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

Anna and Phil ate at BiBi in London.

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