Leveson sketch: Dacre – the sequel

Hugh Grant's "mendacious smear" has got right up the nose of the Daily Mail chief.

It was clear as soon as Paul Dacre came into Court 73 that someone had lit the blue touch paper attached to the editor of the Daily Mail and quickly retired out of harm's way.

To see the boogie man's boogie man in broad daylight once in a week is a rare event but to see him twice was enough to keep the audience in their seats, as the Leveson inquiry meandered through it's 40th day on Fleet Street's malpractices. There had already been some entertainment during the day as Heather Mills-no-longer-McCartney told how the press turned on her post-Macca, and Max Clifford revealed that Simon Cowell and other famous faces pay him £250,000 a year -- first to get them into the papers then to keep them out.

But for the aficionados who had been lucky enough to be present on Monday it was Dacre: the Sequel which got them back early from the pubs which help lubricate the wheels of justice on a daily basis. Those who were there on Monday heard Dacre reveal that the Mail's world view is not his alone but honed by independent thinkers like Simon Heffer and Amanda Platell. He demurred at the suggestion from one of the inquiry advocates (whose particulars will no doubt have been taken down) that the Mail played to the "fears and prejudices" of its readers; preferring the word "anxieties" -- but that was when he was still in what his staff would call a good mood.

All that changed when the name Hugh Grant was mentioned.

Grant, it now appears, has taken the place in the Mail lexicon that used to be occupied in previous decades by Arthur Scargill and Red Robbo. Indeed, he even seems to have supplanted more recent heroes like John Prescott and Bob Crow -- a rare achievement for someone whose road to revolution started with Four Weddings and a Funeral.

But Hugh has done something successfully that the rest never managed by getting right up the nose of the editor-in-chief of the newspaper group
that wants to be closer to the squeezed middle than even Ed Miliband. Dacre's nose is not a place you would want to be. You could see that yesterday as it led his face, still ruddy red from his foreign holidays, glowering into the courtroom.

After 20 years running the Mail, Dacre is not as used to democratic debate as others might be. Indeed, his morning conference is described by attendees as the Vagina Monologues because of his use of certain colourful words to enhance his world view.

But he did his best to keep his temper under check as he tried but failed to submit to questioning from barrister David Shelbourne. Instead he launched into answers to questions he had not been asked, as he took his temper out on a pen he had obviously been given to strangle. His demeanour was not helped by the suave Shelbourne, clearly as keen on Dacre as he was on him.

But back to Grant whose name emerged from between the Mail man's teeth as if drawn by a dentist. The nub of the matter is a claim by the actor on day one of the Leveson inquiry that one of the Mail newspapers Dacre runs may have hacked phone messages between him and friends and used them to run stories.

This led Dacre -- who heard the allegation on another of his bête noires, the BBC -- to fall into a Monologue moment and accuse Grant of a "mendacious smear," thereby suggesting, as Corporal Jones said, that they really don't like it up 'em.

What followed yesterday was one of those courtroom comedy moments when barristers on both sides got up and down, Lord Justice Leveson tried to keep the peace and his temper, and the man with his finger on the nation's fears snorted loud enough to bring traffic to a stop on the Strand. Would Mr Dacre now care to withdraw the "mendacious" charge, said Shelbourne, as he managed to get a word in during one of his rare pauses. No chance, said the editor-in-chief, unless "the poster boy" for the Hacked Off campaign withdrew all allegations of hackery against the group "that I love".

The day had begun with a live link to nighttime Australia where a man with a red and white punk haircut had tried to explain the mysteries of the freelance photo business to "sir," as he described Lord Leveson.

This brought to an end "module one" of the inquiry which seemed to mean something to a courtroom full of people for whom tabloid newspapers were a mystery a month ago and now must be beyond their understanding. A few more people picked up their cheques from Rupert Murdoch for crimes committed by the News of the World and others joined the queue. The hacking, blagging and bribing cases haven't even hit court yet.

As Dacre packed up his temper to take it back to the office for the night conference, Lord Leveson said he might have him back again. Book early, this one will run and run.

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

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

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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