James, 45, Billericay, Essex
Occupation Marketing consultant
Voting record James describes himself as centre right. He has been a member of the Conservative party, but has also voted for the other main parties
Amuse bouche James is moving to Mexico this year. He went to check it out with his Spanish partner, and within two days they had bought an apartment
Melissa, 48, Ipswich, Suffolk
Occupation School teacher
Voting record Melissa describes herself as a socialist and has always voted Labour. She used to be member of CND
Amuse bouche Played in the world Monopoly championships but was knocked out in the first round
Melissa I saw James come in and instantly thought: he looks like a nice guy – not the sort of Tory I had in my head. I had some rice balls and a delicious prawn massaman curry. We shared some prawn crackers.
James She was there first. We had starters and mains – no alcohol because we were both driving, unfortunately. Melissa was warm and welcoming. We both went in with a good attitude.
The big beef
Melissa We were children of the 80s, constantly terrified we were going to be nuked. And watching Raymond Briggs’s When the Wind Blows – with the old couple trying to survive nuclear fallout, and she’s losing her hair. My response to that was to join CND.
James We talked about the situation with Russia and Ukraine, and how at the start of the war we both felt that fear we’d felt as children. No one’s going to say they love nuclear weapons – it would be nice if they didn’t exist, but we live in a world where they do and where Putin is behaving the way he is.
Melissa His argument was that if we didn’t have them, they would be used against us. I’m sceptical about that. I don’t see Putin as being particularly responsible or caring about human life, but I’m guessing there are people behind him who care a bit more about those things. You’ve got countries that aren’t in Nato and don’t have nuclear weapons. And do we need to be involved in every war? If we didn’t have nuclear weapons, would we be involving ourselves deeply in the war in Ukraine?
James I sometimes find the view of the left is: we will never use these weapons. My view is we’re using them every day, they are working all the time. So long as our enemies have them, this is a deterrent we need. The current situation bears that out.
James We’re in the same LGTBQ community. It was nice to have a conversation where so much of our experience was the same – the same challenges around coming out and fitting in with society, challenges that young people still face which are not always understood by straight people.
Melissa We talked about growing up with Section 28 – how there were no role models, and how we thought we would have to be in the closet for our whole lives. I remember Culture Club and Pet Shop Boys were banned at the school disco because they were seen as gay. Within our lifetime so much has changed, from growing up thinking I’d never get married, to being married.
Melissa We disagreed on Margaret Thatcher. She set out with this weird agenda to destroy society. There was no need to close down the mines, and those communities have never got over it. A lot of things that are wrong with our society stem from Thatcherism – this kind of insane greed we’re seeing from the gas and electricity companies while people are freezing to death.
James Certain movements in politics make sense at certain times. Then, the country was on its knees economically, had lost confidence and needed to be reinvented. Harsh medicine but necessary.
James On paper you’ve got a socialist lesbian teacher and a Tory boy from Essex. It shows that when different people come together with a willingness to listen and to think, you actually end up finding common ground. We exchanged numbers, gave each other a hug, and I came back from it buzzing.
Melissa I’ve told myself before to be more open-minded and not judge people as quickly. I thought: what on earth am I doing driving for an hour to meet this awful Tory? And that couldn’t have been farther from the experience I had. We have exchanged numbers, and WhatsApped afterwards to say how wonderful it was to meet.
Additional reporting: Kitty Drake
James and Melissa ate at Alec’s Restaurant in Brentwood, Essex.
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