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.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses