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: Kickstarter.com

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

David Cameron speaks at a press conference following an EU summit in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron's EU concessions show that he wants to avoid an illegitimate victory

The Prime Minister is confident of winning but doesn't want the result to be open to challenge. 

Jeremy Corbyn's remarkable surge has distracted attention from what will be the biggest political event of the next 18 months: the EU referendum. But as the new political season begins, it is returning to prominence. In quick succession, two significant changes have been made to the vote, which must be held before the end of 2017 and which most expect next year.

When the Electoral Commission yesterday recommended that the question be changed from “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” ("Yes"/"No") to "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" ("Leave"/"Remain"), No.10 immediately gave way. The Commission had warned that "Whilst voters understood the question in the Bill some campaigners and members of the public feel the wording is not balanced and there was a perception of bias." 

Today, the government will table amendments which reverse its previous refusal to impose a period of "purdah" during the referendum. This would have allowed government departments to continue to publish promotional material relating to the EU throughout the voting period. But after a rebellion by 27 Tory eurosceptics (only Labour's abstention prevented a defeat), ministers have agreed to impose neutrality (with some exemptions for essential business). No taxpayers' money will be spent on ads or mailshots that cast the EU in a positive light. The public accounts commitee had warned that the reverse position would "cast a shadow of doubt over the propriety" of the referendum.

Both changes, then, have one thing in common: David Cameron's desire for the result to be seen as legitimate and unquestionable. The Prime Minister is confident of winning the vote but recognises the danger that his opponents could frame this outcome as "rigged" or "stitched-up". By acceding to their demands, he has made it far harder for them to do so. More concessions are likely to follow. Cameron has yet to agree to allow Conservative ministers to campaign against EU membership (as Harold Wilson did in 1975). Most Tory MPs, however, expect him to do so. He will be mocked and derided as "weak" for doing so. But if the PM can secure a lasting settlement, one that is regarded as legitimate and definitive, it will be more than worth it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.