Paul Routledge

Robin Cook's ill-tempered attack on Gordon Brown - leaked authoritatively to the Sunday Torygraph, whatever the Foreign Secretary says by way of denial - is causing a bit of a stir. For the source, look no further than Cookie's long-serving political adviser David Clark, who enjoys nothing more than a game of golf with the political staff of the Sun. So perhaps we shall see the rancour served up a second time. In shorter words.

Peers in profusion at the launch of ex-minister Peter Kilfoyle's memoirs, including two former Labour general secretaries, milords Whitty and Sawyer, who exchange their customary glacial greetings. The Dome minister Lord Falconer also turns up. "We're not acquainted . . . " I begin, before he cuts in: "Oh yes, we are. Last time we met, you fell asleep with your head on my shoulder."

Oh, all right then. But tell me this: having lost so much weight, how does Charlie's suit still fit him? Does he have a wardrobe that accommodates his fluctuating political fortunes?

Sir Ken Jackson, general secretary of the engineering union, is inviting all-comers in the media to a celebration bash at a swanky Park Lane hotel in January to be attended by senior government ministers. The "special rate" is £1,000 a head if you book a table for ten. Cheques made out to the AEEU, please, but the ultimate beneficiary is no doubt Labour's general election fund. Forgive my inconvenient memory, but is this not the same AEEU that two years ago withheld £1m from the party in order to get more proles into parliament, and so remedy Labour's middle-class bias?

Downing Street's freshly acquired provincial guru, Phil Murphy (ex- Yorkshire Post), has asked local papers to fax him their first editions so he can monitor the progress of his campaign to go over the heads of the nationals to "real people" in t'towns and t'villages. The last person to believe in this nonsense was John Major. Appalling to relate, some titles have even gone along with the idea.

The brochure of Christmas goodies available from the Labour Party comes gift-wrapped in Millbank's glossy magazine. Among the tat (a green mug with the legend "Tough on Crime" and a silver Holloway brooch with a jailer's arrow) is a video entitled The Story of the Labour Party. But this is not the video history originally commissioned from the film-maker Tom Steel and the writer Peta van den Bergh by Lord Sawyer. They've spent several thousand pounds filming, researching and doing interviews, but their calls to the general secretary Margaret McDonagh go unanswered. And who is the mystery author of the authorised W H Smith version? I do not propose spending £16.99 to find out.

To Northern Ireland for more research on the Airey Neave book, where the (publicly owned) railways are in just as much of a mess as over here. A notice at Belfast Central announces, with a certain Hibernian satisfaction, that passengers can expect disruption for 71 weeks. Nobody has a good word to say for Peter Mandelson, who cannot make the trains run on time, or even at all. However, Mandy is said to be on very close terms with David Trimble, the UUP leader. He may come to regret this friendship at the local elections. Defections from the pro-Agreement Unionists to Ian Paisley's DUP are an almost daily occurrence.

Alastair Campbell's double, the actor Andrew Dunn, came as my guest to the Press Gallery lunch in honour of the Prime Minister's press secretary. Despite my best endeavours, they met in the lift. "You've got a double chin!" sniffed Ali. Maybe he should take another look in the mirror. Still, both behaved impeccably, and much light entertainment all round, notwithstanding Campbell's sermon against cynicism in the media. Cynicism? This is from the spokesman for a party that loudly proclaimed, on the subject of air traffic control: "Our air is not for sale."

The writer is chief political commentator for the Mirror and a biographer of Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of stealthy wealth

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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.