Political sketch: Debt tops £1tn, Gideon swans off

Osborne opts for European lunch as Alexander is left to face the music.

As Britain's national debt passed £1 trillion for the first time, Chancellor George Osborne fled the country -- or at least he went to Brussels, which in Tory circles counts as the same thing. George should have been taking it on the chin at Treasury Questions in the House of Commons but instead was spotted lunching it with the enemy at the very meeting he and Dave said they wanted nothing to do with just last month.

But the opportunity to be a silent observer at the talks to try yet again to resolve the EU's economic difficulties must have seemed a far more attractive position than being lumbered with the explanation of the £1,000,000,000,000 debt.

These are the sorts of headlines that, 19 months into a Government facing the worst economic crisis since 1929, an Opposition could only hope for but yet again today it is Labour that finds itself out in the cold. Those who managed to translate last week's clash with the unions and the latest re-launch into a good week for Labour and its leader Ed Miliband had a 5 per cent lead for the Tories in the latest opinion poll to explain away.

Much more worryingly was the revelation that 51 per cent of Labour supporters did not think their own party had a credible alternative for tackling the deficit and 59 per cent of them still find it difficult to imagine Ed M running the country.

All of which helped to put a playful smile on the lips of George's Coalition coat carrier Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander called in to cover his tracks. Danny was the late draftee to replace David Laws and spent the first six months looking as if he had taken the wrong turning on the way to school. But no longer and he now has taken to his job with all the passion of a convert.

No nods towards his Lib Dem past from him who is happy to out-Tory the Tories in his defence of the Government. Buoyed up no doubt by the opinion polls, he was happy to pass the blame for the £1 trillion straight back to Labour as part of the Coalition's continuingly successful campaign to persuade the public that all their present troubles were inherited. And slumped in the seat opposite sat the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who had all her look of someone who agreed with the charge.

Despite the absence of his usual sparring partner, Ed had turned up to see if anyone else wanted a fight but you could tell his heart was not in it. Was Danny aware the IMF had just downgraded Britain's growth forecast, he asked. "Am I bovvered?" seemed Danny's reply. Tomorrow the Office for Budget Responsibility is believed to be confirming that under George's watch we are now formally back in recession.

More bad news for Labour.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Getty
Show Hide image

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