Here’s what’s wrong with the ‘gay Establishment’

Monday, 17 March 2014

The dirty secret about the gay rights movement in Britain today is that there is no longer any reason for it to exist. All the big battles for equality and recognition have been won, and were won quite a long time ago. The cosmetic row over gay marriage last year didn’t affect the legal rights gay couples were entitled to under civil partnership. And, truth be told, there’s really nothing left to be angry about in this country, unless you count last year’s absurd campaign to ban children from using the word “gay” in playgrounds.

Talk to anyone who works in the gay lobby and they’ll probably agree – but only privately. You won’t hear anything like it, of course, from charities jonesing for taxpayer cash, or from magazines that depend on outrage to shift copies to those unmoved by oiled torsos. There have been widespread changes in staff at gay charities and campaigning groups recently: chief executives are burnt out and, more importantly, they are recognising that there’s little left on the rights checklist to advocate for. Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust are haemorrhaging talent and leadership, and gay conferences and campaigns are descending into trivia and navel-gazing.

It’s exhausting to watch the endless, cyclical hand-holding and whipped-up frenzy that can accompany the most inconsequential of discussions. This is what happens when rights movements run out of steam: panic, bewilderment and an orgy of self-justification, wrapped up in activism at the far fringes of relevance. The gay lobby’s mission du jour is transsexual rights, and the arcane and baffling new linguistic conventions that govern that complex web of transsexual and transgender people.

Today’s debates treat self-indulgent middle-class problems that affect barely a per cent of these organisations’ own members, and a vanishingly small proportion of the population at large, as though they were historic civil rights battles. Every transsexual in public life seems to “identify” their sexual orientation in a subtly different way, which creates problems for organisations like Stonewall, which have been used to representing relatively homogenous groups and who in any case are wondering whether and how their remit ought to be expanded to include transsexual issues.

 

An open letter to my friends in the technology industry

Thursday, 4 April 2013

We have to talk. This thing you’ve been doing, it has to stop. When I ask you for a recommendation for an app, or a restaurant, or a new brand of toothpaste, I do not need to know that the CEO is a personal friend of yours. We all have impressive-sounding address books because this industry is the size of a postage stamp. So cut it out.

Seriously. It’s like a sickness. (Before I go on, let me just get one thing out of the way: it’s an illness I have periodic and obnoxious bouts of too. This post is partly an attempt to shame myself out of bad habits.)

It impresses no one. It adds nothing to the meaning of a sentence and it just makes me think the speakers are cocks who locate way too much self-esteem in utterly fucking unimportant things. And that makes me sad, because I know they’re not cocks. That’s why they’re my friends.

Is there any industry as pathologically addicted to name-dropping as the start-up world? I only ask because this particular epidemic seems to be spiralling way out of control. You see, I was talking about this last night to two dear friends of mine who are chief executives of two of the most successful British internet start-ups. I won’t name names but you’ve probably heard of them.

There are always outliers and eccentrics: blow-hards who swank and bullshit their way through, fibbing and flirting to get what they want. Like Julie Meyer. She’s kind of a big deal. (I can introduce you, if you want.) But seriously: when did “Oh, and she’s a really good friend of mine” become as necessary to the end of a sentence as a full stop?

I don’t need to know who people know - if they even actually really do – at every possible opportunity. When I ask how they are, I don’t need to know the name of the hotel they’ve just checked out of, as if that’s somehow relevant, or which class they flew home in. (Don’t even get me started on airport lounge bragging.) I don’t need to know that they were speaking at a conference; that they were there is all the information I need. Even that is often unnecessary.

At it’s simplest, this behaviour is a class giveaway. These are working class-nerds on the make – or, in some cases, achingly nouveau wide-boys desperate to show off because they’re so insecure about their newly acquired social standing. Beta males to a man and hating every minute of it. We get it, you had no friends at school. My friend Anthony, who used to be Mark Cuban’s PA, and I were laughing about this with Tim Ferriss at a dinner in San Francisco in 2010. Ferriss picked up the check.

At times it can seem as though the technology industry is one big happy family. Except, as we all know, it isn’t.

The problem with all this constant public back-slapping, self-congratulation and obsequiousness is two-fold: first, that you forget the almost preternatural power of a subtle, private endorsement from someone with serious clout. Like that time the president of a huge American foundation who’s on the board of like seven multinational corporations, and who is now a friend and fan, put in a good word for me with some conference I wanted to speak at.

Or that time I was at a dinner with Steve Ballmer opposite. He probably doesn’t remember me, but I know Larry Ellison does because his office got in touch to invite me to lunch in Redwood City. I don’t think I ever got back to them because I was invited to a private island for a meditation retreat with the cast of a US TV show. That was a fun summer.

Second, when everyone’s being nice to each other and praising everyone else, no one is really saying anything, are they? It’s a bit like politics, where the rows are all basically bollocks because the whole Establishment is run by a tiny elite who all went to the same schools and who don’t really disagree on anything. I’ll bring this up when I have dinner again with the leader of the UK’s third largest political party. He’s a hoot!

If it’s not a pat on the back or a bit of self-aggrandisement, no one wants to know. You see, the tech industry has inherited oppressive thought police culture without the style or substance even of politics. (That’s a good line, actually; I might mention it the next time I’m in the House of Commons. I dated an MP, you know.)  Nor does it have the effete charm of the fashionista who air-kisses and daaaaaahlinks! her way through a cocktail party. Nor, even, of the movie industry, where at least mutual compliments are passable because everyone’s so damned good looking.

This reminds me of the time I was couch-surfing in Beverly Hills in 2008 and at a pool party just off Mulholland I was talking to a really cute guy for about an hour outside by the pool and we nearly made out and it suddenly dawned on me that it was Tobey Maguire. At least I think it was Maguire; it could have been Gyllenhaal. Whoever it was, he offered me coke. I was shocked, and said no.

The tragic irony of all this saccharine sucking-up is of course that the characters at the top of the air-kissing tree are such grim, sociopathic bastards. Except the ones who are my friends, of course, who are really just very misunderstood. I just wish people would be honest, like Aaron Levie from Box. I met him in 2010. He gave me his business card.

I wouldn’t have brought all this up but I thought a touch of comic verisimilitude might help me make my point.

I mean, to drop such things gratuitously would be appallingly gauche.

Wouldn’t it.

 

Google Glass and surveillance culture

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

I’ve written a long piece for Slashdot’s original content channel on Google’s new wearable computers. You can read the whole thing here.

Consumer hardware may not yet have the power to capture and process olfactory search terms, but it is more than capable of augmenting sight. Thus we have been gifted Google’s latest, most horrendous idea: a wearable, Internet-enabled computer it has christened “Glass,” but whose inelegant aesthetic is better represented by the product’s goofy unofficial moniker, “Google Goggles.”

It’s an audacious product for a company no one trusts to behave responsibly with our data: a pair of glasses that can monitor and record the world around you. But they do so much more than that. Let’s not beat about the bush here: these specs are a thing of wonder. They can email, take pictures, record video, provide walking or driving directions, conduct searches, translate signs… the possibilities are endless.

But if Glass becomes as ubiquitous as the iPhone, are we truly to believe that Google will not attempt to abuse that remarkable power?

 

Introducing the Gove-O-Meter

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

GoveGiven that we know how comprehensively and utterly Michael Gove has won the education debate, there’s no harm in celebrating our terrific Education Secretary’s other chief virtue: his ability to drive the Left absolutely potty.

It’s well-established that Mr Gove strikes fear and terror into the hearts of the loony Left wherever he goes. The sound of his name alone is enough to prompt metropolitan liberals to spit out their organic muesli.

Behold, therefore, the Gove-O-Meter: a measure of the apoplexy various sound people and organisations induce in nutters and nitwits. For benchmarking purposes, here are a few familiar names, with their Gove-O-Meter rankings given as marks out of ten.

Now do pay attention; there will be a written test on Friday.

Boris Johnson – 4/10
David Cameron – 5/10
Douglas Murray – 6/10
Peter Hitchens – 7/10
David Starkey – 7/10
The Taxpayers’ Alliance – 8/10
Iain Duncan Smith – 8/10
Guido Fawkes – 8.5/10
Melanie Phillips – 9/10
George Osborne – 9/10
James Delingpole – 9/10
Rod Liddle – 9.5/10
Mr Gove – 10/10
Lady Thatcher – 10/10

Feel free to contribute here or on Twitter, with #GoveOMeter

 

Exit Jihad Jenny, raving about Jews (as usual)

Thursday, 1 March 2012

It’s a strange political system in which a malicious old woman who spreads poisonous lies about Jews ends up in the upper chamber of Parliament. You might think that only a quirk of heredity could land Jenny Tonge in the House of Lords as a Baroness. But, in fact, this disturbed old crone was nominated for the honour by her political party, the Liberal Democrats.

Or, at least it was her party until this week, when Tonge’s latest anti-Semitic outburst finally forced Nick Clegg to present her with an ultimatum: lay off the Die Stürmer propaganda or lose the whip. She chose the latter.

They call her Jihad Jenny, this former GP and MP who spreads stories about Israelis harvesting organs in Haiti and who once said that, if she were a Palestinian, she might well be a suicide bomber. I doubt that very much: old Jenny’s willingness to take risks only extends to spouting ludicrously biased pro-Palestinian rhetoric in the company of Islamic hate-mongers.

There’s no evidence that she’d ever strap a bomb to herself, more’s the pity.

 

Ken Livingstone is wrong: gays are not a disease

Thursday, 9 February 2012

It comes to something when Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrats’ candidate for London mayor, lands a punch on you. But that’s what happened yesterday, when Paddick seized on Ken Livingstone’s car crash interview with the New Statesman to remind us of those rumours about Ken’s new attitude towards homosexuals.

The Tory party, said oddball Livingstone to the Statesman, is “riddled” with gays. Interesting word, that. Riddled. The first things that come to my mind, and I expect yours, are cancer and Aids. I mean, you tell me: is the word normally used in any other contexts?

Many on the Left were quick to point out Ken’s laudable enough past record campaigning for gay rights, as if this were evidence that he is incapable of homophobia. But it wasn’t washing, and Paddick’s comment rang very true to me and I am sure many other gay men in the media in London who have heard about Ken’s dirty little secret.

 

The age of the troll is over

Friday, 3 February 2012

A common misconception about those awful people in the comment box who screech obscenities at journalists and toss insults as though they were green salad, whom we in the trade call trolls, is that they are sad old – or, indeed, young – men who sit in front of their computer screens in yellowing underpants muttering curses and slogans as they type. Actually, if you were to meet a troll, you probably wouldn’t notice anything odd about him. Or her. But one thing’s for sure: after five minutes, you’d be longing to fling yourself down the fire escape – anything to escape their company.

The dedicated troll is never amusingly eccentric. On the contrary, a troll is a 24-carat bore, someone who has spent years emptying parties with their “small talk”, but who now has the miraculous opportunity to force their way into a conversation. These creatures know they are hated, but because they are hiding behind inane pseudonyms, that doesn’t bother them.

They take delight in the literary equivalent of farting in a lift. Their odour is repulsive, but, when they step out into the lobby, they could hardly look more ordinary. Spruce pensioners with tidy comb-overs and UKIP membership cards in their blazer pockets; 35-year-old “indie kids” who still play bass guitar in dad’s garage; sour-faced primary school teachers who would rather people assume they were lesbians than admit that even the flashers in the park find them off-puttingly plain.

 

An independent Scotland? Please, God, let it happen!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The tragedy of modern Scotland is that the country has utterly lost its historically admired entrepreneurial spirit after a century of subjugation to Labour and the trade unions, who are responsible for its unhappy present condition. Today, Scotland is more commonly associated with work-shy dole scroungers and skag-addled prostitutes than with the industriousness of Adam Smith or with its glorious pre-Reformation spirituality.

But a newly independent Scotland of the kind currently being discussed would be forced to rediscover her zeal for innovation and enterprise, because there would be no more subsidies from the British taxpayer to prop up public institutions that are branded “Scottish” but which are paid for by the English.

That is why I believe this once-great nation needs a chance to shine again. And now is the time to act. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s current pug-faced First Minister and by far the most impressive political operator in Britain, is probably the only man who could pull it off.

After all, a country that loses no opportunity to paint itself as independent, despite being the recipient of largesse from across the border, and which never shuts up about its distinct identity and rich history, to the point of psychosis, should really be given the chance to go it alone.

 

Why are Italians so cowardly?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

“Jokes about cowardly Italians,” says Christie Davis, at the University of Reading, “Are of French origin and can be traced back to a medieval comic image of the Lombards, the gibes of the disgusting Rabelais and the cold wit of Montaigne.

“This kind of French humour survived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and then emerged as a cycle of narrative jokes after the humiliating French defeat by the Axis powers followed by occupation in 1940.

“The jokes are thus a statement of the self-image of the French as the warrior nation of Europe, an assertion of la gloire de la France.”

Come off it, love. Jokes about chicken-shitted grape-stompers abound because at the slightest whiff of trouble they head for the hills faster than you can say arrivederci.

 

Review: The Iron Lady

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Margaret Thatcher is a divisive figure, it is true. There are normal people who stand in awe at the enormity of her accomplishment, the depth of her integrity and sincerity and the strength of her resolve as a fearless woman in a cruelly misogynistic world. Then there are the whingeing fuckwits who say they can’t stand her as a way of courting popularity with their mates.

But whatever your view of Britain’s greatest peacetime Prime Minister – actually, let’s make that greatest ever Prime Minister – if you have an ounce of human sensibility in your body you can’t but be appalled at the callous abuse of a woman in her twilight years for such shallow dramatic purposes.

I say shallow because there is no artistic purpose whatsoever to the depictions in this film of Maggie as an aging half-wit. They only serve to reduce the time available to its admittedly sublime highlights: those moments during Thatcher’s leadership – her triumphant acceptance speech on May 3, 1979, her fearlessness and clear thinking during the Falklands conflict – that the film manages to re-enact with almost their original grandeur.

 

Network Rail

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

I’m coming to the end of a restful long weekend in the countryside, riding horses, shooting small animals and drinking real ale. (OK, just kidding. Obviously I don’t drink ale.)

A few yards from the bottom of the drive to my mother’s house, in the no man’s land between east and west Kent, there’s a railway crossing. For three days, a silver saloon has sat at the crossing. The car has a single, hi-vis jacketed occupant.

When we returned from the East Kent hunt meet in Elham on Boxing Day, my mother wondered aloud who he was, and what he’d been up to. A curious type by nature, this morning I decided to go and ask him.

The chap’s name is Jerry. “I work for the railways,” he says. “Testing the line.”

I point out to Jerry that my mother has quite a good view of his car from the first floor of the house, and that she’s never seen him get out of it, except to use the portaloo that has been unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road. “Well, I’m on triple time, see,” comes the cheerful reply.

Jerry, along with many other employees of Network Rail, does this six times a year. While he is sat in his 2008 Nissan, smoking and listening to Radio 1, no trains can pass that signal point.

I ask Jerry whether the majority of engineering work closures were down to “testing” or whether there were serious bits of remedial work being done. “Out here? Nah, we just come and hang about for a few days.”

Doesn’t he get bored? “Not really.”

What about all the people whose travel will be affected at weekends? Jerry shrugs. Some of them are travelling to and from work, I point out.

“Gives the coach drivers something to do, dunnit,” he says, absent-mindedly.

I wanted to get the train back to London today. I couldn’t: the line was closed. The minicab would have cost me £180. Merry Christmas.

 

A young bald monarch – just what we need

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Originally posted at Blottr.

No sooner has he acquired a cool wife than Prince William risks falling back into the tragically uncool bad habits of the Windsor family. One of which – as observers of Prince Charles will be painfully aware – involves “spontaneous dancing” with young women, usually of a different ethnicity.

One likes to think that Prince William, at the peak of his sex appeal as an Eton sixth-former, watched in horror as his father swayed uncomfortably in some tribal township, patches of sweat clearly visible under the arms of his Anderson & Sheppard suiting.

But the photograph of William dancing with Vanessa Boateng, 18, at a charitable shelter makes me worry that the Windsor impulse to make an awkward fool of oneself in public is overtaking him.

 

Tech City has spent £1million on admin in one year. Where will it end?

Monday, 12 December 2011

It’s the object of widespread ridicule from those not endlessly flattered and sucked up to with invitations to swanky drinks parties. It spent £55,000 on a website everyone hates and which fails to meet even the basic standards of modern web design. It is coming under increasing fire for shameless appropriation of others’ achievements.

But Tech City, the wasteful pet project of trendies in Downing Street that has so successfully used internet businesses in east London as PR for the Government, has already burned through at least £1million.

I was surprised at how small that number was, initially. But of course it doesn’t include all the other bits of Government chipping in to help, the extensive schmoozing going on overseas and God knows whatever else they’ve charged to someone else’s budget. Nor does it include the investment fund. So the real total cost is probably something like three times that amount. Think what three million quid would have done if simply given to Seedcamp to invest in start-ups!

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request I submitted in November, the annual budget of Tech City has been revealed today as well. £150,000 is set aside for marketing and communications. £250,000 for events. £220,500 on employing civil servants elsewhere in Government. And a little under £1.2million in staff and consultant costs.

These are staggering sums. How much of that is chief executive Eric van der Kleij’s salary, I wonder? (Tech City wouldn’t say: they’ve come up with an ingenious way to dodge FoI requests, and public accountability, by muddying the employment arrangements of their staff with contracts from PA Consulting and Grant Thornton.)

I ask again: what, precisely, has been accomplished with this massive splurge of cash?

 

Competitive Daily Mail hating: the most tiresome game on the internet

Thursday, 8 December 2011

In offices up and down the country, there is one newspaper that invariably goes missing long before the others. It’s the one you hear people asking after; the one you see secretaries stuffing into their handbags on their way out the door. It’s not the Express, the Mirror or even the Sun. It’s the Daily Mail.

Now, you might say that the Mail appeals to the worst side of human nature. That it plays on our jealousies, our insecurities, our most antagonistic impulses. But that, of course, is precisely what makes it so fabulously readable. That, and the fact that the comment pages are packed with some of the best writers in the country. Who in their right mind would sneer at a full-page op-ed by Max Hastings, one of Fleet Street’s most distinguished editors? Or the eminently readable Stephen Glover? Who can resist a glance at Ephraim Hardcastle? And who can read one of Quentin Letts’ fantastically bitchy Commons sketches and not quiver with delight?

It is, by a considerable margin, the best serious newspaper in the country. (Indeed, one of the reasons the Telegraph’s news coverage is so good these days is that the paper is run almost entirely by ex-Mail executives.) And yet, if you spend any time at all on the internet, you’ll know that this marvellous organ, this brilliant commercial product, this superbly well-crafted and expertly targeted editorial proposition is the subject of the most appalling daily abuse.

 

‘Racist tram woman’, the glorious product of thirteen years under Labour

Thursday, 1 December 2011

This week we were afforded a terrifying glimpse into the real Britain – the one that lurks menacingly on council estates, in northern cities and across the poorer London boroughs, and which normally rears its head in the safer confines of The Jeremy Kyle Show. “Britain is nothing now. Britain is fuck all. My Britain is fuck all,” bellowed Emma West, 34, of Croydon at the start of a foul-mouthed racist rant directed at her fellow passengers on a London tram. Unhappily for her, a black woman sitting opposite recorded much of the outburst: West has since been charged with a racially-aggravated public order offence and will appear in court on Tuesday. Now, forgive me for being opportunistic, but I think I might take the opportunity here to explain why this incident speaks volumes about the country in which we live.

It goes without saying that West’s toxic outpouring was reprehensible, and that she deserved to be silenced. But that, I think, is all she deserved. Because, while there’s no doubt that West was obnoxious, it’s worth considering the environment that produced her – and the millions of people in Britain who feel resentment at being unable to find a job – and to ponder what might make a young mother feel so angry that she would direct abusive language like this to strangers in the presence of her own child. (And don’t say alcohol: there’s no evidence she was drunk when the video was filmed.)