28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Four, Conservative Warrior Princess

In which Willard takes romantic inspiration from Ayn Rand.

Date 4 took me back out into the spectator sport of stunt dating.

Now, since I started this blog, I've really plumbed the depths of the strangest niche dating sites that exist, the sort of things that would make your hair turn white. There's Positivesingles.com, which is "the world's largest dating site for people with HIV, Herpes and more!" and Diapermates.com, the "internet's largest free personals community for Adult Babies and Diaper lovers". Not to say there aren't lovely ladies who enjoy wearing nappies or suffer from herpes (or both), of course.

As anyone (especially a man) who has tried online dating will tell you, having a profile on a website rarely guarantees you a date. You really have to push for one, and often, when you tell people you're a journalist with a dating blog, they aren't that willing to go on a date with you. Especially if what they are into is, to coin a phrase, super-weird.

Thus, I was pretty impressed that within half an hour of creating a profile on the AtlasSphere.com, a "place where admirers of Ayn Rand's novels can meet, 365 days a year, to network, find shared interests and perhaps, through our online dating service, even fall in Love", I was being approached and offered a date.

Now, you may not be familiar with the work of Ayn Rand, but it's a little, umm... extreme. Her most famous book is called Atlas Shrugged. Alan Greenspan said of it “It taught me that capitalism is not only practical and efficient but also moral." But really, don’t bother reading it.

It’s dark. Crazy dark. Crazy enough to include quotes like “Altruism is the only real evil. The man who speaks to you of making a sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and he intends to be the master.” It is the exposition of Rand’s theory of life; the theory of Objectivism, a theory which says that “people of the mind” – writers, artists, entrepreneurs and inventors should cut themselves loose of a society which expects them to contribute to the rest if it; to hand money to “moochers and parasites” as Rand would have it.

As well as a philosophical thought experiment, it’s also a turgidly written, 1,000 page, rubbish science fiction novel. It is frankly, in need of a ruthless edit. Apparently, Rand’s publisher suggested this, to which she curtly responded, “Would you cut the Bible?”.

Well, aside from the obvious answer, “Yeah, totally, especially all the contradictory and/or mad bits”, it is clear Rand wouldn’t get into her own elitist city on the strength of the novel’s plot or writing. At its heart it’s a mystery; it’s about a railroad executive and a steel magnate who realise society is crumbling around them, because all of the best minds in the world have hidden away in a paradise city hidden under a holographic shield in Colorado. They have lots of badly written sex on the way, in between the 60 page monologues about how great selfishness is.

It's very popular among a certain type of person in American - you often see bumper stickers saying "Who is John Galt?" (the central question of the novel) alongside ones supporting the National Rifle association or with catchy slogans like "Welcome to the people's republic of Obamastan". The person who had messaged me described herself as a "Conservative Warrior Princess", so it seemed pretty clear she fell broadly into this category.

I was a *bit* surprised to get a message so quickly, especially as I had written an alarmingly honest profile: "Socially liberal Tory journo looking for fun dates with amusing Libertarian folk. No moochers, splicers or people with swarms of bees living in their arms. Would you kindly go on a date with me". All of this seems a bit obscure, but largely references a Rand-inspired computer game from a few years back. Trust me, if you like that game, it's hilarious.

So, anyway, back to Conservative Warrior Princess. She was a producer for an arm of Fox News, from Texas, and had just moved to London. She wanted to go on a date that was something "very London, but not on the basic tourist trail". I offered her high tea at Kensington Palace Orangery, or coffee in the Brixton market. She opted for Brixton. So, anyway, we meet up on a chilly Sunday at Brixton tube, and sauntered down Electric Avenue (yes, the one from the song). It's fair to say it's a pretty multi-cultural district, and I think the first alarm bells started to ring when she said "Holy shit, is this the Ghetto?".

My gut feeling is, you can't get a good quality mocha in "the ghetto", but, hey, what do I know?

We sat down for coffee at a nice eclectic bohemian little coffee place that does lovely hot chocolate. We started to chat. I must confess, I was interested to meet someone from inside Fox News - I have quite a few friends who work for places like the Daily Mail, who overwhelmingly don't support the paper's editorial line, and outside of work, are quite happy to criticise it. Oh, but not this girl.

We got through "But what do we really know about Barack Obama?", "Climate change is a hoax by liberals" and a quite long chat about her favourite rifle (a .270 calibre Winchester, in case you're interested) before I was 100 per cent sure she was a true believer. It wasn't all bad - we had very similar tastes in online gaming, so were able to bond over that.

We had a good chat about American politics, as I was out in the States during the elections. She told me she was an avid scuba diver, and looked forward to diving in the North Sea - an experience I suggested could be replicated by wearing her wetsuit in a bath half-full of ice with the lights off. So, hey, that's *almost* Diapermates.com.

Sadly, things then went a bit sour as we actually had a mild row when she asked me how I felt about how my country had been "colonised by the Muslims". It simmered down quickly as we agreed to disagree, but I was by that point already thinking that this was probably a good blog entry, but not a good date.

It's the classic confusion of the word conservative - in the US, it means flag loving, god-fearing guns and apple pie folk, whereas, in the UK, it can mean gay marriage liking, multi-culturalist, "I'd just like to pay a little less tax", liberal Cameroons like me.

We eventually parted company amicably, having split the bill, with me paying the tip - I offered to pay, and we got into this bizarre Objectivist-inspired confusion where me paying was accusing her of being a "moocher", but her traditionalism preventing her splitting the bill, and me feeling a little guilty at letting her get the tab, which was a conversation I'd never had before - or probably will ever have again. Until I move to Rapture, anyway.

The fact that she added me on Linkedin after the date I think says a reasonable amount about whether we'll see each other again romantically. Still, I'd gone on a date off the full-on bizarre list, and come out unbitten, so I think I'm getting better at this online dating malarkey...

This post originally appeared at 28 Dates Later. Stay tuned as we catch you up with all Willard's disastrous dates so far over the next week.

Taylor Schilling in the 2011 film adaptation of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged".

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide