Who pissed on the parade?

Non-stop rain, an imprisoned cow and a Cameron that's actually in power

Dear Auntie Marina,

Ever since the Tories won the local election, it's done nothing but
rain. This certainly wasn't mentioned on their election leaflets. I
preferred your weather. Is this something I can refer to the Electoral
Complaints Commission?

That bloke up the hill, Whitehawk, Brighton

In October 2006 at the annual Conservative Party Conference David Cameron laid out his fair weather policies. He said: "We can only become the party of the centre ground by renouncing rain and the causes of rain."

At a dry indoor location the spliffing toff continued: "It is no long possible for a socially responsible, moderate, modern party to hanker for the old days of rain. More sunshine, less rain is what the modern world is about."

Dave added: "Being for sun and against rain is what the modern Conservative party is about. That is after all why I voted to send our troops to Iraq. More sunshine and less rain is what the modern world is about."

So yes, I think you have an excellent case against the Tories who, once again, have proved what a prize bunch of showers they truly are. They say one thing to get elected, but once in office lose no sleep over raining on the electorate’s parade. Let’s go get ‘em boy! You mop, I’ll squeeze.

Dear Marina

Like this is sooooooo unfair. Jail is no place for a lady of my impekable (sic) social cred. The judge simply failed to understand their has to be one rule for us and one for them otherwise why would night clubs have VIP lounges? With your excellent campaigning skills I have to overlook your humble beginnings to beg of you help get me out this hell hole.

Paris Hilton, Century Reginal Detention Fasillity, LA, California

My dear girl, have you any idea how many lives are destroyed and families torn apart through grief because cows like you drive while drunk? You are extremely lucky, young lady, to have pulled off the biggest PR coup of your 'career' without killing anybody - including yourself.

Apparently a photo of you in jail "finding Jesus in a foetal position with a half-eaten bologna sandwich" would be worth $200,000 - more than double that "if you can see the tears". I assume this refers to you, not Jesus.

In your position I would hold out for a close-up lesbo gang bang sex sequence captured on a mobile phone. Got to be worth a cool million at least. More if it’s you leading the assault and you’re clever with online advertising.

You could use your time in jail to improve your woefully inadequate literacy skills thus standing you in good stead for the inevitable book deals on your release. But you’re probably better off concentrating on smuggling in a mobile phone. Get back in touch if you need a ghost writer. In the meantime, learn a lesson girlfriend!

Dear Marina

It’s not easy having Dave as a brother. Even at Eton he was cooler, braver and more popular. I would never have dared do some of the things he’s gotten away with. But now I’ve showed him. Future prime minister he may be. But I’m the chair, the treasurer, the secretary and the clerk of Peasemore Parish Council. Can I at long last feel equal?

Alex C, Peasemore

Parish meetings must be fascinating. How parishioners must smile, as you open up a debate with yourself and fastidiously minute your every word. But who notes your apologies when you’re away in Notters advising Dave? And why a secretary and a clerk?

Such challenges for modern Britain are mirrored – or should that be smoke and mirrored – on my own local town council. Dave certainly didn’t allow a shortage of candidates here to get in the way of his boast of fielding more candidates than rival parties.

I have this image from the count in my head that won’t go away: a cluster of suits sporting blue rosettes, each bearing a white elephant pissing green pee into the wind. I think that’s what they were. There was so much jostling and hand shaking with weird finger moves – not to mention the appalling number of Tory votes piling up at the count - it was all most confusing for me.

But I digress. Basically the Tories won 36 places out of 39. Sounds good. Yet when you go through the names you realise there are only 24 actual Tories. They doubled up and in three cases tripled up as candidates. We now have Tory representatives from outside the area, sitting on two town councils, the district council and in two cases are the county councillors as well. That’s two men holding eight positions of office between them. One would have to ask: is our multi-layered local government system now crap on every level?

With your wildly superior and privileged background I will assume you are supremely able to cope on behalf of the people of Peasemore.

But here in Telscombe Town – well, if you like brick-a-brac and tat come along to our meetings and browse. There’s no shortage of white elephants.

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.