Mind your language, but don’t duck the issues

The candidates need to show leadership by saying what they would do differently.

Labour was right to turn down Sky News and refuse to televise yesterday's leadership hustings at the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. There are some discussions in politics that are best held behind closed doors, and in their attempts to appeal to MPs the candidates have to be mindful of what the media are reading into what they say.

Until Wednesday night, when nominations close and the New Statesman hosts the first open hustings in Westminster, Diane Abbott, Andy Burnham and John McDonnell may well be tempted to throw caution to the wind to try to get on the ballot paper.

However, serious candidates need to mind their language and beware the temptation of saying one thing during this election, if they are likely to end up saying something different at the next general election. Labour made great use of quotations from transcripts of what David Cameron said when he ran against David Davis, and you can be sure that CCHQ's media monitoring unit will spend the long, hot summer filling away ammunition that Cameron can use at PMQs when he faces the new leader of the opposition come October.

Abbott and McDonell have almost nothing to lose in the rhetorical arms race. Even if they can get on the ballot paper, you wouldn't expect them to serve in the team of "Andy MiliBalls", given that they have been so quick to condemn their backgrounds, the role they played in making New Labour an electoral force and their numerous achievements in government.

These things matter, because the left is debating not who should be our fightback figurehead, but who should be the left's candidate for prime minister. Jon Cruddas's decision not to run shows that he understands this, and his tone in the 2007 deputy leader election was marked by its focus on ideas and policy.

Being prime ministerial has to start now, and all the candidates need to mind their language. So, when David Miliband tells the GMB conference that he was responsible for Building Schools for the Future, while Ed Balls is in parliament opposing Michael Gove . . . Or when Ed Balls tells the Guardian that he hasn't travelled round the world, so he's more in touch with Britain . . . Or when both Eds reopen a divisive debate on Iraq during Saturday press interviews . . . They are all experienced political operators and know that when you swing your elbow, journalists always make sure it lands on one of your opponents.

But minding your language doesn't mean ducking the issues.

So when Ed Balls writes in the Observer, advocating a change in future immigration policy and an analysis of a decision back in 2004 that with hindsight he thinks the Labour government got wrong, he deserves some credit. Of course, he is appealing to the left and to the unions. And yes, his position rightly gets characterised as protectionist in the Times. But this weekend Balls went one step further than Ed Miliband, who was first to identify immigration as "a class issue" in his speech to the Fabian Society that launched his candidacy.

Andy Burnham may be unashamedly proud to call himself the "continuity candidate", but if he does get enough MPs to nominate him, he and David Miliband will need to address the issue of immigration and the associated policy problems of welfare reform, social housing and fair distribution of scarce resources by the state.

Labour's leadership election needs to be about policy issues and big ideas, not just about values and character. The left needs an open debate about our direction and it needs to start with candidates showing leadership by saying what they would do differently. If the candidates don't disagree, that direction will not become clear and Labour will lose again.

But, for the good of the party and for the sake of everyone who needs a government of the left, the candidates' disagreements need to be about positive policy prescriptions and not petty personality politics.

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos.

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Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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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