28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Thirteen, The Sleazy Hookup

In which Willard has a go at "banging with friends".

So, I've always maintained - this is a dating blog, not a sex blog.

But, the mission is to explore the wild wastelands of online dating, and lets face it, a huge amount of the people who are dating online are in it for the sexy-times, and many of the websites are overtly sexually weird and/or sordid. It's become a regular pastime of mine to open emails from friends that make my jaw drop, as they find new, more extreme "dating" sites that they want me to try out. Actually, the sexually strange ones - like Diapermates.com,"The internet's largest adult baby personals site", worry me less than the really sordid "normal" ones.

Probably the most sordid site I've seen is LocalSlags.co.uk. I mean, where do you have to be in your life to look at yourself in the mirror and think, "Yeah, I am a slag, I live in a small town. I suppose I am, therefore, a local slag! I'll register on that website!"

I mean, I'd want to be a Global slag ("Your online portal for all things slag-related" is quite the tag-line) or a Europe-wide slag at the very least. Maybe I'm just too ambitious.

I did create a profile on LocalSlags (sister site - Granny slags, for when your Local slags are just too damn young), but the messages were so unbelievably grim I never replied to any - although at one point I was offered the sex act of my choice, as long as I was willing to "dog" in a particular Croydon bus-shelter, which is not something many other people can probably claim. Or depressingly, probably something absolutely loads of people can claim.

So, online hookups - even more sordid and weird than online dating, and that is really saying something. But, of course, that brief look didn't leave me with a date. At the shallow end of the creepy waters of the online hookup pool is Facebook dating app Bang with Friends.

The core concept of this is that plenty of us have friends we would like to sleep with. I'm sure we've all been in that situation where you have a crush on someone you know, and then years later you find out that they had a thing for you at the same time, but now you're both with other people.

You can't help but wonder "what if?" though. It all sounds like a reasonable idea, apart from the fact that the app itself is almost indefeasibly sleazy & chock to the brim with UniLad style casual misogyny. For example, the website logo, basically speaks for itself:

The "how to use the website" page features directions for using the site, with accompanying illustrations of how to put on a condom. It's the kind of thing you can imagine that three fratboy dudebros came up with in their college dormroom, hi-fiving the whole time, occasionally shouting "AWESOME!", "YOLO!" and then headbutting each other and chanting "PSI-ZETA, PSI-ZETA!" The tagline is "Skip the chatting, get to the smacking". Ahem. It's classy like you wouldn't believe.

The way it works is, you load the app, and then you select the gender you are "down to bang" with (yes, that is the site terminology). It then gives you a full list of all of your friends of that gender, and you click a big button under their portrait that says "DOWN TO BANG". Nothing happens, unless they also have the app, and click you, in which case you both get a message, informing you both that you are into each other.

So, I fired it up, (just to have a look, you understand). Here's what it looks like:


You'll note that prominent among my allegedly heterosexual female friends is Mr Benjamin Paul James Williams. His female heterosexuality will probably come as a shock to his lovely girlfriend, for a start. It seems the app isn't very good at identifying gender, which is even more mystifying in Ben's case, as he has not one, but four male names. I suspect it must have seen him dancing.

Now, other than the problem with spotting genders (which, lets face it, is important), the other problems include the fact that the app claims to be completely confidential, but a bit of playing with facebook's code certainly lets you see which of your friends have it installed.

It also only works if both sides have it, and men outnumber women on it about twenty to one, for fairly obvious reasons. I circumvented this problem by ticking literally every friend I had on Facebook. (yes, even the ones where their profile pic is them in a wedding dress, their cute child, the male ones, my boss, literally everyone), and then announcing I was on the app. There's actually no search function I could find, so this seemed to be the "best" way to do it.

Aside from the obvious messages from male public schoolboy friends trying it out to see if I was serious ("Foxman, this is Sambo. You down to Bang? LOL!"), there was little fanfare, and I pretty much forgot I had it switched on.

That is, until out of the blue, I got a message from a female friend on it. She was indeed exactly the sort of person I'd always had a thing for - a foreign lady, who I knew from university debating, who now works overseas, who I see about once every other year. Whenever she's in London, we usually go for dinner, catch up, but nothing has ever happened. So, I was pretty taken aback by the message - indeed, I initially assumed it was a joke, just her trying out the app.

However, before I could write her a message asking her if it was indeed just her trying things out, she sent me a facebook message, telling me that she was going to be in London in a week's time - but also that she'd always had a bit of a thing for me, and could we make it a date? I must say, I was immensely flattered, as she's extremely attractive and incredibly successful, exactly the sort of person I'd always considered out of my league. I must admit, I consider 95% of the women I've dated as part of this experiment "out of my league", so maybe I'm overly harsh on myself.

Anyway, I met her at Kings Cross Station, and we went to the champagne bar upstairs for drinks. It's actually lovely, although frighteningly expensive (£13.85 for a gin and tonic). Fortunately, the very large, very evil organisation indeed (tm) that she works for was picking up the tab. We talked through old friends, how her career was going (short version: well), compared notes on old times. We decided to go on for dinner, and went to a lovely gastropub nearby. I regaled her with tales of what I've been doing over the last few years; she told me about a few fun adventures she's had. We compared notes on the horror of living in hotels, having your whole life in a bag; I'd traveled around the states for a couple of months during the recent election, so had a tremendous sympathy with her plight.

We agreed that if we were both single and both living in the same country, we'd love to date. Of course, that brought the issue to a head - while we were both single, I live in London, but she's totally rootless, and travels all over the place. She'd been on three continents in the preceding four weeks; and she claims that the only furniture she has in the actual flat she is supposed to live in is an ikea bed and a champagne fridge. We skirted around the issue of what would come after dinner.

We were having a great time - the date didn't feel unnatural or weird at all. It was fun - all the things that make her an appealing friend were present, but there was a fun flirtatious edge to the proceedings, as we both knew we were interested in being more than friends.

I mean, isn't a lasting relationship at its core a really good friendship with added attraction and sex? Indeed, I think there is something in the concept of hooking up friends who have crushes on each other - I just think Bang with Friends is probably just a bit too misogynistic to be the answer to this problem.

Anyway, as the evening drew to a close, she asked me to... well, like I said at the beginning - dating blog, not a sex blog. Again, use your imagination!


Facebook "likes" you. 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.