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Dining across the divide: ‘He was convinced of the worth of private schools, the finishing-school element’ | Life and style

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Jonathan, 62, Oxford

Occupation Retired publisher and estate agent

Voting record Is “more of a Rory Stewart Conservative than a Labour voter”, and is progressing left with age

Amuse bouche He has terrible luck with planes. Twice he’s been stuck on the runway at Boston for more than six hours, and once he landed in Rochester, Minnesota, instead of Rochester, New York, because of a careless travel agent


Tessa, 66, Oxford

Tessa

Occupation Retired librarian

Voting record Never Tory. Labour where it’s “actually going to make a difference”. When she lived in Boris Johnson’s constituency, “ I’d spoil my ballot out of sheer frustration”

Amuse bouche Still goes on holiday with a group of 12 friends she met at Swansea University nearly 50 years ago. In the past, they’ve rented entire youth hostels for them and their 20 kids


For starters

Tessa He arrived in a cravat and full tweed. I thought, “Oh, God!” I associate cravat-wearers with genteel men of a certain type – but he was so much more open-minded.

Jonathan I had no preconceptions at all. I was quite pleased to see a woman; some men can be a bit combative. We barely drew breath from the moment we sat down, and were eventually thrown out – they had put the chairs up and were flickering the lights.

Tessa We had the waiter choose for us – I did say avoid the goat. We had the egg hopper, a cashew nut dish and the black pork, which looked very grey but was actually really nice. It was quite a test of our finger-eating etiquette.

Jonathan and Tessa

The big beef

Jonathan I didn’t move her at all on private schools – and she was privately educated and I wasn’t. Her view is that they’re divisive and that if wealthy, pushy parents didn’t have the option, the state sector would improve. I think if you didn’t have a private sector that exemplified what a good school should be, there’d be no incentive for the state schools to get any better.

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Tessa I knew from the outset he wasn’t going to budge. The thing that really bothers me about private schools is the elitism and social engineering.

Jonathan I think state schools focus too much on academic achievement. What private schools deliver that state schools don’t is self-confidence, character, all those things that enable you to do well at job interviews, get promoted, get that better life. If state schools spent more time thinking about that, I think they’d deliver a much better product.

Tessa He was convinced of the worth of private schools, this finishing-school element. I thought we would have more discussion of inequality, but he didn’t appear to be engaged with that at all.

Jonathan and Tessa

Sharing plate

Tessa I think public sector workers should be allowed to strike – they need to get their voices heard. But strikes should be a last resort, and it needs to be understood that people don’t strike lightly and that there is a punitive effect on them.

Jonathan If I were an emergency worker, teacher, refuse collector and so forth, the consequences of not doing my job could be profound. I couldn’t imagine saying, “I am not going to put out that fire,”, and these fantastic, vital workers shouldn’t be put in that position. Pay review bodies should be so powerful that no government could overturn their recommendations – if they said, “Nurses’ pay needs to be doubled,” it would happen as a matter of law.

Jonathan and Tessa

For afters

Tessa I think there should be more cycle lanes. He made a good point that cities in Europe were flattened during the war and rebuilt with wider roads, so it’s easier to accommodate them than on the tiny roads in this country.

Jonathan In Sheffield in the 80s, we could go anywhere on the bus for 10p – traffic disappeared. So more cycle lanes is the wrong solution; we need better public transport.

Tessa He actually said all cars ought to be banned in city centres, so he was more radical than I was.

Jonathan and Tessa

Takeaways

Tessa As we left, we both said, “That was a joy.” He was a charming, sensitive, thoughtful man. I’d never have picked him out of a crowd to have a three-hour conversation with; it just shows you that everyone probably has something to say worth that’s listening to.

Jonathan It was an intelligent, thought-provoking conversation. I’m not sure we persuaded each other, but we arrived at a very sensible maxim: agree to differ, and order another glass of wine.

Jonathan and Tessa

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

Jonathan and Tessa ate at The Coconut Tree in Oxford

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



Jonathan, 62, Oxford

Jonathan

Occupation Retired publisher and estate agent

Voting record Is “more of a Rory Stewart Conservative than a Labour voter”, and is progressing left with age

Amuse bouche He has terrible luck with planes. Twice he’s been stuck on the runway at Boston for more than six hours, and once he landed in Rochester, Minnesota, instead of Rochester, New York, because of a careless travel agent


Tessa, 66, Oxford

Tessa

Occupation Retired librarian

Voting record Never Tory. Labour where it’s “actually going to make a difference”. When she lived in Boris Johnson’s constituency, “ I’d spoil my ballot out of sheer frustration”

Amuse bouche Still goes on holiday with a group of 12 friends she met at Swansea University nearly 50 years ago. In the past, they’ve rented entire youth hostels for them and their 20 kids


For starters

Tessa He arrived in a cravat and full tweed. I thought, “Oh, God!” I associate cravat-wearers with genteel men of a certain type – but he was so much more open-minded.

Jonathan I had no preconceptions at all. I was quite pleased to see a woman; some men can be a bit combative. We barely drew breath from the moment we sat down, and were eventually thrown out – they had put the chairs up and were flickering the lights.

Tessa We had the waiter choose for us – I did say avoid the goat. We had the egg hopper, a cashew nut dish and the black pork, which looked very grey but was actually really nice. It was quite a test of our finger-eating etiquette.

Jonathan and Tessa

The big beef

Jonathan I didn’t move her at all on private schools – and she was privately educated and I wasn’t. Her view is that they’re divisive and that if wealthy, pushy parents didn’t have the option, the state sector would improve. I think if you didn’t have a private sector that exemplified what a good school should be, there’d be no incentive for the state schools to get any better.

skip past newsletter promotion

Tessa I knew from the outset he wasn’t going to budge. The thing that really bothers me about private schools is the elitism and social engineering.

Jonathan I think state schools focus too much on academic achievement. What private schools deliver that state schools don’t is self-confidence, character, all those things that enable you to do well at job interviews, get promoted, get that better life. If state schools spent more time thinking about that, I think they’d deliver a much better product.

Tessa He was convinced of the worth of private schools, this finishing-school element. I thought we would have more discussion of inequality, but he didn’t appear to be engaged with that at all.

Jonathan and Tessa

Sharing plate

Tessa I think public sector workers should be allowed to strike – they need to get their voices heard. But strikes should be a last resort, and it needs to be understood that people don’t strike lightly and that there is a punitive effect on them.

Jonathan If I were an emergency worker, teacher, refuse collector and so forth, the consequences of not doing my job could be profound. I couldn’t imagine saying, “I am not going to put out that fire,”, and these fantastic, vital workers shouldn’t be put in that position. Pay review bodies should be so powerful that no government could overturn their recommendations – if they said, “Nurses’ pay needs to be doubled,” it would happen as a matter of law.

Jonathan and Tessa

For afters

Tessa I think there should be more cycle lanes. He made a good point that cities in Europe were flattened during the war and rebuilt with wider roads, so it’s easier to accommodate them than on the tiny roads in this country.

Jonathan In Sheffield in the 80s, we could go anywhere on the bus for 10p – traffic disappeared. So more cycle lanes is the wrong solution; we need better public transport.

Tessa He actually said all cars ought to be banned in city centres, so he was more radical than I was.

Jonathan and Tessa

Takeaways

Tessa As we left, we both said, “That was a joy.” He was a charming, sensitive, thoughtful man. I’d never have picked him out of a crowd to have a three-hour conversation with; it just shows you that everyone probably has something to say worth that’s listening to.

Jonathan It was an intelligent, thought-provoking conversation. I’m not sure we persuaded each other, but we arrived at a very sensible maxim: agree to differ, and order another glass of wine.

Jonathan and Tessa

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

Jonathan and Tessa ate at The Coconut Tree in Oxford

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

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