Dining across the divide: ‘Saying “I’m a socialist” doesn’t get you anywhere these days’ | Life and style

Dining across the divide: ‘Saying “I’m a socialist” doesn’t get you anywhere these days’ | Life and style

Harish, 76, London

Harish

Occupation Retired solicitor

Voting record Labour, although says he may have voted Liberal once or twice

Amuse bouche Harish was jailed as a student by the Ian Smith regime in Zimbabwe, but released after 17 hours


Jessica, 43, London

Jessica

Occupation Runs her own company providing research on the NHS

Voting record Labour in every election bar 2015, when she voted for the National Health Action party (NHAP)

Amuse bouche Jessica is from a long line of communists; her great-grandmother was a double agent for the KGB and MI5


For starters

Jessica We had a meze platter and shared everything in a non-Covid-compliant way. We almost fed each other.

Harish Hummus, baba ganoush, pitta bread, falafel, a couple of pastries – we toyed with the idea of not having a main course, but the waiter changed our minds. We each had a fish dish.

Jessica I almost went home with him. I absolutely adored him. I’m hoping he’ll come to my birthday party.

Harish Jessica is very friendly.

Harish and Jessica

The big beef

Harish She was a Corbynista. She was happy when he was elected leader of the Labour party, and felt he was taking it back to its roots – which I agreed with. But the electoral system in this country being as it is, Corbyn could make a good leader of a pressure group. I don’t think he could form a government. That’s why I didn’t like him and that’s why I liked Blair. He turned the party into a middle-of-the-road governing party prepared to shed its ideals for the sake of power. In my old age, I think that’s better than saying, “I’m a socialist” which doesn’t get you anywhere these days.

Jessica He calls himself a Blairite, but actually he thought Blair was an absolute arsehole. We were both bitterly disappointed after 1997 – mainly about Iraq, but we talked about the market system he brought in for the NHS. We agreed that the marketisation of public services was disastrous and doesn’t work. Private companies are good in their place, but they shouldn’t be running public services, because their motive is profit.

Harish I worked mostly as an in-house lawyer. I worked for British Steel for 15 or 17 years – it was privatised while I was there. Does this mean more steel? No, it means more profits for shareholders, that’s all.

Jessica He feels he should be means-tested for various benefits for older people, such as transport and heating. I don’t agree with that. I think those should be universal. But I think loads of things should be universal. We ended up agreeing passionately, which I thought was surprising. There’s such a whopping age difference.

Harish and Jessica

Sharing plate

Jessica Neither of us could believe that Brexit had happened. We agreed that it did because Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings had basically lied. We talked a lot about how corrupt Johnson’s government has been, and how it’s so shocking that he manages to get people to vote for him at all.

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Harish We both thought Brexit had been bad for the country. I feel less safe, as an immigrant, without the protection of the EU. Probably the thing we agreed on most strongly was that Boris is the worst prime minister we’ve ever had. I said, “Is he really that different from Mugabe?”

Harish and Jessica

For afters

Jessica I’m an anarcho-syndicalist. It’s all about very localised, collective self-government. So he said he thought socialism was dead, maybe thinking I would disagree, but I didn’t. I do, too, for the same reason – the government is there to provide public services, rather than be a commissioning body. I got expelled from the Labour party for standing for the NHAP. But my great-grandfather was thrown out of the Communist party for being a Maoist.

Harish The state should be there to help those who are less able to help themselves. Not because they can’t get off their backsides, but because of accidents of birth and where they were brought up. Twenty or 30 years ago, I would have argued everything differently – I would have said compromise is bad. Now I think the first job of any party is to get elected.

Harish and Jessica

Takeaways

Jessica We’re friends for life, so it’s been a good experience.

Harish I gave her my number. She was a very pleasant person.

Harish and Jessica

Harish and Jessica ate at Comptoir Libanais, London SE1

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