Dining across the divide: ‘He said exams protect the privileged – parents who can afford tutors’

Chris, 68, Preesall, Lancashire


Occupation Formerly in the merchant navy, now a higher education tutor

Voting record Brought up as a Tory but while studying with the Open University in his early 30s changed to Labour, and has voted for the party since. In the EU referendum, he voted to remain

Amuse bouche Chris was at prep school with Tony Blair, though stresses he doesn’t know him now

Shalini, 43, Preston, Lancashire


Occupation Lecturer and dentist

Voting record Shalini, who was born in Malaysia, describes herself as centre right and voted Conservative in the last general election. She couldn’t vote in the EU referendum, as she was on a work permit at the time

Amuse bouche Shalini once won a spicy food-eating contest

For starters

Shalini I felt immediately comfortable. We talked for three and a half hours. He is a lovely gentleman.

Chris We had a table overlooking the River Wyre. The tide was flooding when we sat down. By the time we finished, it was going fast the other way. She was vivacious, interesting, energetic and a great conversationalist.

Shalini and Chris.

The big beef

Shalini I’m happy to pay my taxes, but I do feel in the UK we are taxed more than in some other countries.

Chris I would be willing to pay more tax. The fabric of our society depends on us paying our way. Being a seafarer, I have travelled all over the place; it’s obvious when you go to countries that have lower taxation that they don’t have the same levels of infrastructure.

Shalini VAT is a good thing because everybody pays the same, and it’s based on how much you consume. He thought it wasn’t right for people on lower incomes to have to pay the same, and quoted Marx: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Chris I’m in favour of progressive taxes. I don’t like VAT for that reason. It seems inherently unfair that a millionaire who buys a telly pays the same VAT as someone who isn’t a millionaire. I’d like to see tax paid as a proportion of wealth and income.

Shalini Going back to the Marx quote, are people going to work hard? Are hard-working people going to work overtime in order to satisfy the needs of people who don’t work as much? There must be a balance. You must reward people who have worked hard, otherwise it quashes innovation and people wanting to do more.

Shalini and Chris.

Sharing plate

Shalini We had the rhubarb meringue, which we were both expecting to be a pie, but it came deconstructed. It was excellent, but we agreed that maybe people should stop deconstructing.

Chris She has grade 8 piano. I never got anywhere near grade 8. I said: “Do you sing?” and she said: “I used to.” I said: “Do you fancy joining a choir?”

Shalini He is chair of a choir, so he said: “Come along to one of our concerts.” I’d like to take him up on the offer, actually.

Shalini and Chris.

For afters

Chris I left school at 16, never did A-levels. I went straight to sea. Recently, I decided to do an English literature A-level. Just about every single module on the course has been directed towards passing the exam. The idea that someone could be studying in order to understand and provide a critique of literature doesn’t seem to factor. Exams are good at testing whether you are good at exams. They’re a memory test.

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Shalini Assessment in university is more diverse – you have skills assessment, too, especially in dentistry. He said exams protect the privileged – parents who can afford tutors train their kids to pass them.

Chris I would like my dentist to have passed an exam or two, but I would hate to think that they were only practising dentistry because they could pass an exam.

Shalini Instead of getting rid of exams, we should provide more opportunities to students who can’t afford tutoring. I’m still stressed if I sit an exam now, but it makes me work hard and be disciplined, and those are the skills that have got me through life. If you take that away from students, I don’t understand how they are going to have grit. And in life, you need grit.

Shalini and Chris.


Shalini Even when we disagreed, it was very comfortable. I never felt judged. We laughed through a lot of things.

Chris I kept thinking, should I be saying that? That kind of hung over it, like a spectre, but I loved it.

Shalini and Chris.

Additional reporting: Naomi Larsson

Chris and Shalini ate at the Cartford Inn, near Preston, Lancashire

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