Take that Marks and Spencers...

A one-man consumer boycott, Tony Benn, Zac Goldsmith, the BBC cat and other issues...

We've got rather a lovely little spat underway here at newstatesman.com. It all stems from Sian Berry's reaction to the Conservative Party's Quality of Life review put together by Tory A-lister Zac Goldsmith and ex-cabinet minister John Gummer.

A few days after we posted Sian's blog Zac responded accusing her of not even reading the report.

Well NS blogger and Green Party London mayoral candidate wasn't taking that lying down and was soon tapping away at her keyboard. Why not have a read of her retort? Obviously I've offered ZG a right of reply so watch this space in case there are more developments....

Next I'd like to highlight the very welcome return of Simon Munnery. He's back and on first rate form pondering the role of the telly chef in modern Britain.

"Chefs always use 'the finest ingredients'. Isn’t that cheating? Shouldn’t a great chef be able to create a decent meal out of mediocre ingredients? Where do chefs get off anyway taking the credit for food; they didn’t make it after all - they only heated it up, chopped it and slapped it on a plate," he writes.

This week we've also had fantastic contribution to our Faith Column from Onkar Ghate. He writes on Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism.

Now, in the closing weeks of September parts of Britain erupt into something of a frenzy as the politicians return from their (very) long summer breaks and, presumably to recoup from time with their families, head to the seaside.

Actually the whole thing begins with the TUC sometime in September and finally ends in the first week of October with the Tories.

Well throughout all of this we've been running the New Statesman Conference Blog.

Next week Labour descends on Bournemouth so look out for a mixture of MPs, union members and activists in the coming days. Tony Benn kicks off our coverage on Sunday...

Finally, I had some extremely upsetting news this week. You may (or may not) have read my article in the mag on Pavarotti and how no-one slept in 1990. Well towards the end I cite Take That as one of the reasons the nineties didn't live up to their early promise.

Now I've just discovered that Marks and Spencer are to use the far from fabulous four in an advertising campaign so I'm afraid I shan't be able to shop there anymore.

Mind you I don't anticipate a huge downturn in M&S profits. I've been boycotting Crunchie bars for about 16 years - ever since the commercial featuring a peculiarly annoying chap wearing a ginger wig - and so far as I know the Cadbury company still flourishes.

Finally, viewers wanted to call the new Blue Peter cat 'Cookies'. The BBC fixed it so the animal was named Socks. Now heads have rolled and the corporation is making amends by getting a kitten that will be called Cookies. Oh the seamless art of PR.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad