Nonstarters: a really sweet father-daughter business that's still rubbish

This week's worst kickstarter video.

This planet is beset by problems. Uncontrollable industrial proliferation, religious intolerance, carpal tunnel syndrome, fossil fuel dependency.

But the real threat may be discarded tennis balls. In fact, if we don’t turn them all into chairs soon, the last human action may be a single hand thrust desperately from a bumpy yellow sea.

That is, at least, according to the Tennis Ball Chair project, whose founders tell us some 400,000,000 of the beloved spheres are hurled into the dark places beneath the earth each year.

I don’t want to scoff at legitimate concerns about resource waste. I just don’t think tennis balls are a significantly large enough part of the problem to incite consumers to want to buy a solution.

I also don’t want to scoff too much at the naivete of this pitch, because it’s actually a really sweet effort by a father and daughter to go into business together.

Unfortunately, it’s still rubbish:

The target market for this product is a fragile scrap of venn diagram confluence space connecting “people who play phenomenal amounts of tennis”, “people who are worried about the tennis ball waste crisis”, “people who can be arsed to save up 56 tennis balls, drill holes in them and make a chair” and “people who don’t really mind sitting on a bunch of tennis balls”.

Even if America’s tennis balls were all turned into furniture (and that would mean 7 million chairs per year), I imagine that most would end up in landfills later down the line anyway. Because, really, who’s going to pass these things on to their grandchildren?

Altogether, this project smacks of a good father building a ramshackle business rationale around his daughter’s realisation that “I guess you could make a chair out of tennis balls” to make a summer project that she’ll remember fondly for the rest of her life.

Sadly, it also reminds us that even in the soft-focus world of kickstarter, capital doesn’t change hands based on how sincerely the pitcher wants to do something.

Tennis ball chair project. Photograph:

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.