28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Fifteen, The Psychic

In which Willard tries to keep an open mind.

Back when I started the date blog, I signed up to a huge number of very odd dating sites, in the vague hope that someone from one of these sites would contact me and arrange a date. I was quite excited by the idea of dating a Circus performer, a Goth, a Dwarf, a Naturist or a Biker. Although, of course, that could all be the same person.

I must say, I've largely been disappointed, and as yet, no tiny naked trapeze artist has roared into my life on a Harley-Davidson, to take me off to a Sisters of Mercy gig. I think it's for two reasons - one online dating is to a large part about effort. You get out what you put in. If you sit back passively and wait for someone to come to you, you are likely to be disappointed, especially if you're on a site where your gender is in the minority.

Equally, as I discovered from a comment on the blog (yes, a GOOD comment - as a Telegraph journalist these feel as rare as hen's teeth), if you go on a random site, you may infact just be signing up to a giant white label dating database, that filters you by niche. The comment reads:

"I recently had an interesting conversation with a web developer who runs dating sites, and he explained to me that many sites actually run off the same back end database (for example www.whitelabeldating.com), and developers simply pay for access to the database and build their own front end, filtering the results according to whatever niche they are catering for. So you can end up exchanging messages with someone who actually signed up to a completely different site. For example if you happen to have red hair your profile could end up on here (www.dateginger.co.uk). I always wondered how there was enough demand to keep so many highly niche sites in business, and this goes some way towards explaining it. Whitelabeldating appears to be pretty respectable, but I'm sure there are sleazier "white label" databases out there."

A bit of digging finds that, for example, this dating site for people looking for French partners shares a database with sadomasochism dating site BDSM.com. I mean, I assume if you draw a Venn diagram between "French" and "Bondage", there will be a reasonable crossover, but not *that* much. Some French people don't like bondage. I assume. Ahem.

I must admit, I was pretty sure that the bulk of these sites were therefore unlikely to deliver the, for example, psychic of my dreams. I mean, I'd made a profile on a psychic dating site, but it seemed to be just one of these white-labelled front ends. The site was relatively amusing - for example, it allows you to look for people aged up to 120 years old; I assume in case you're looking for a Macbeth-esque wise woman, or a Biomancer who had successfully delayed their aging by the use of their chi, or whatever. But yeah, never thought a real live psi would want to meet me, a humble mundane.

Thus, I was pretty damn surprised by the message that appeared one day, titled "Star of a Strange Dream":

Dear Willard,

I am an expat, so my life in London is dotted of strange things, strange people, strange feelings.

But last night I had a remarkable over-strange dream, in which we were dating each other. We were in an old fashioned yellow motel, eating pancakes. Everything in the room was slightly dusty but we didn't care.

Then I woke up thinking "I have to write this guy" and I sent you an email. We met in a totally different place, a dark bridge, and I recall observing that you weren't so short after all.

Then I woke up again.

"I have to write this guy."

It's one of the more charming, and more strange messages I had ever received. It did but me in a bit of a quandary. I mean, on one hand, the lady in question was able to write lovely and charming messages. On the other hand, she did think she had dreams where she saw the future. It could have been bad: I mean, I'd seen the 1980s classic movie Scanners.

Still, I figured worst case scenario, at least my head being telekinetically shattered would be quick & painless, and best case scenario, she could tell me next week's winning euromillions draw numbers, and started looking for a nice place to go for a date.

My housemates were very sceptical, and if I'm honest, so was I. That said, Divination is the best psychic power chart in Warhammer 40,000, so how bad could it be? I'd never date a pyrokine, on that basis...

Anyway, I decided I'd find a hotel with yellow walls, where they served lovely pancakes, and decided to do that rare thing, a breakfast date. The weather on the morning was absolutely dreadul; freezing with driving rain. Both myself and the charming psychic just happened to rush through the doors of the place at exactly the same time. Fate, obviously (or was it?). Anyway, after five minutes of drying off and shivering, we sat down for and ordered lovely pancakes, with spiced apple and raisin compote, and honey mascarpone. It was, I must say, one of the best breakfasts I've had in years.

The psychic was lovely - extremely smart, well educated, and very attractive. She worked in science, which made her prophetic dream an interesting quirk. We talked about her home country, which she'd left because of the amount of corruption there got her down, and she felt women weren't taken seriously there. We discussed how dreadful politics was in her country - frankly, for all of my occasional bitching, we can't really compete with our southern european neighbours. She had an exotic accent, and the typical quirk of people who are brilliant at language of insisting that her English wasn't that good when in fact, it was better than mine.

So, smart, beautiful, different, politically active - and all from someone I had been leery of dating in the first instance. I walked her to the tube in the rain, gave her a kiss on each cheek, and we've since arranged to see each other again. I guess one of the most interesting things I'm learning from the experiment with online dating is that my prejudices are just that - prejudiced. Maybe I should be more open minded in the future?

A psychic. Photograph: Getty Images

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.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

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