While the Tories head right, the Republicans are beginning to modernise

The GOP is embracing immigration reform and is under grassroots pressure to reverse its opposition to gay marriage.

When staring down the barrel of a gun, most political parties seek drastic change to reverse their electoral fortunes. Such is the case with both the Republicans in the United States and the Conservative Party here.

The former has sought to alter its image following a presidential election it should have won. The Tories are still reeling from not winning an outright majority in 2010; still disgusted they share power with the Lib Dems; still concerned that a resurgent Labour Party and UKIP will render them useless in 2015.

These right-leaning parties have taken different routes in order to become winners. One has become more reactionary, peddling its old messages in a drastic attempt to excite the base; the other is accepting that the political parameters are shifting and that it needs to modernise its message.

Yes, that’s right; the Republicans are becoming more liberal than the Conservatives. The Tea Party had its day in the US in 2010; now it’s having its day in the UK in 2013. Two major issues – gay marriage and immigration – clearly show this shift in conservatism on both sides of the Atlantic.

Gay marriage, an issue many in Britain thought had been resolved, once again came to the forefront due to rebellious Tory MPs. One doesn’t need to go far to witness the dread in Conservative eyes at the issue and what it could mean. Gerald Howarth yesterday declared, "There are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this as but a stepping stone to something even further." One can dismiss this as the ramblings of a backbencher, but members of the cabinet have their own gripes: Welsh Secretary David Jones said that gay couples "clearly" could not provide a "warm and safe environment" in which to raise children.

The GOP may not seem as if it is leading the charge in terms of marriage equality, with the Republican National Committee voting to reaffirm the party’s commitment to upholding the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. Yet there are growing calls for it to embrace gay marriage to attract younger voters. While in Britain Tory activists complain about Cameron’s stance and protest against the reform, grassroots Republicans in the United States are doing the exact opposite: they’re mobilising to embrace gay marriage.

When Rhode Island State Senate passed a same-sex marriage bill in April, all five Republicans in the chamber voted in favour. They had been extensively lobbied by the American Unity Fund, a Republican advocacy group that pushes its elected officials to embrace the gay equality agenda. Contrast what fund organiser Paul E. Singer told The New York Times with the words of David Jones above: "The concept of gay unions fits very well within our framework of individual liberty and our belief that strong families make for a stronger society."

Embracing change is something Conservative Party members appear unwilling to do. A letter signed by 30 present and former local party chairmen ignored the fact that more than 60 per cent of the British public have consistently supported same-sex marriage. It read: "The Prime Minister's bizarre drive to ram this legislation through Parliament, without any democratic mandate and without the support of party members has been a disaster and has driven thousands of voters to Ukip." Do they believe that if put to the vote, the UK would side with their stance?

This focus on the electoral advantages of supporting gay marriage brings us to the immigration debate, something that, alongside withdrawal from the EU, has been a staple of the UKIP manifesto.

One difference between Tory activist attitudes towards immigration and gay marriage is that a tougher stance on the former is supported by large sections of the public, whereas their stance on the latter is a vote loser. While in the US, the GOP is embracing immigration reform to allow illegal migrants to become citizens, in Britain, our public discourse has taken a negative turn. Whereas Tory activists are the Tea Partiers when it comes to gay marriage, the British public is increasingly becoming the Tea Party when it comes to immigration.

A NatCen Social Research back in September showed that British attitudes towards immigration had  hardened over the years, with 51% wanting to see immigration levels "reduced a lot", a rise of 12% since 1995. Britons focus particularly on illegal immigrants. Recent Pew Research in the US shows almost 75% of Americans believe that there should be ways for illegal immigrants to stay within the country legally. The United States, a country born through immigration and proud of it, clearly has a different perspective on the matter – but now the GOP, a party whose immigration line was previously similar to that of the Conservatives, is embracing immigrants as potential voters.

In his New Yorker article "The Party Next Time", Ryan Lizza detailed the growing non-white American electorate and how traditionally red states, like Texas, were, in demographic terms, becoming more like blue states: growing numbers of Hispanic, African-American and minority voters who tend to lean Democratic. While some conservatives on Fox News bemoaned the decline of white America, others realised the need to approach these growing minority bases.

This is particularly important in Texas, a huge state whose large number of electoral colleges is needed by every Republican presidential candidate. Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the party in Texas, told Lizza: "You cannot have a situation with the Hispanic community that we’ve had for forty years with the African-American community, where it’s a bloc of votes that you almost write off." As Republicans begin to transform their approach towards Hispanics and other minorities, Conservatives in Britain are beginning once more to bemoan immigrants, pander to UKIP over the EU, and vocally oppose gay marriage. Worrying,  large sections of the public also agree with some of these stances.

The British press always loves to focus on the ridiculousness of America: its gun culture, its capital punishment, its racism. Yet as we have laughed and ridiculed those across the pond, we have become blind to the fact that as the GOP has started to move away from its own loony past, the Tories are becoming the new heirs of Sarah Palin and her dropouts.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal speaks during the second day of the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) March 15, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. Photograph: Getty Images.

Kiran Moodley is a freelance journalist at CNBC who has written for GQ, the Atlantic, PBS NewsHour and The Daily Beast.

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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.