A Liberal Democrat poster promoting the debate.
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Why Clegg and Farage will both win from their debates

Farage gets to enter the political establishment, while Clegg has a chance to reconnect with those voters who warmed to him in 2010.

You could almost, almost, feel the anticipation pulsing through the Westminster bubble as the breaking news was announced on Wednesday: the BBC are to host a head-to-head debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage in April on the UK’s future in Europe. This is will be an important moment in British politics. Though it remains to be seen who, if anyone, will actually watch it, the debate will set the tone for the European parliament elections barely a month later, which will in turn influence the narrative for the general election next year.

What impact will it have? The truth is we just don’t know. The leaders' debates in 2010 saw Clegg’s personal ratings, and those of his party, rocket immediately following the first debate. By the time of the election just a few weeks later, however, the Lib Dems had only increased their vote share by 1 percentage point from 2005 and had suffered a net loss of five seats. 

While their performance was doubtless better than it would have been without the debates, the boost diminished as election day approached.  It can be argued, though, that without “Cleggmania”, Clegg would not have been in a position to negotiate for himself the job of Deputy Prime Minister. His own personal position had been elevated, he became a nationally known – and very popular – political figure. Fast forward a few months later, however, and Clegg had been hammered in the polls having gone into coalition with the Conservatives and (shortly afterwards) broken his promise on tuition fees.  The scale and speed of his fall from popularity was perhaps exacerbated by the unnaturally high position he was enjoying post-debates.

By agreeing to the debate, Clegg is risking Nigel Farage benefiting in the same way he did. He is elevating the leader of a party with no MPs, and that achieved just over 3 per cent of the vote at the general election, to a platform alongside the Deputy Prime Minister and the leader of a party that won 23 per cent of the vote four years ago. Farage is currently a popular, if unscrutinised, politician. In February, ComRes found that 24 per cent of the public have a favourable opinion of UKIP, higher than the 17 per cent that are positive about the Lib Dems. Farage, meanwhile, is more popular (20 per cent) than Clegg (13 per cent), though David Cameron is the most popular party leader with 31 per cent.

Clearly, then, Clegg has little to lose in the popularity stakes: he is the least popular leader of the least popular party. He and his team will have calculated that the Deputy Prime Minister performed well in this medium before and it may have the opportunity to restore some popularity and perhaps even credibility – his ratings could hardly get worse. Perhaps more significantly, by taking this on he is becoming the face of the pro-European movement in Britain.

Farage stands with plenty to gain but also plenty to lose by agreeing to the debate. His party stood at 11 per cent in the most recent ComRes poll, broadly in line with the Lib Dems' 10 per cent. UKIP are riding the crest of a wave, enjoying national levels of support that even the most optimistic supporter could not have imagined just a few years ago. While Farage is an accomplished public performer, he hasn’t been exposed to this sort of intense scrutiny before. This will be an hour-long primtime BBC debate against an experienced political opponent. The self-styled "maverick" of British politics is entering into the political establishment with this move.  His customary pint and cigarette will have to be put away for the hour.

Clegg believes the debate gives him the opportunity to take on the UKIP leader, undermine his arguments and expose him as a man short on ideas and substance. Farage, meanwhile, hopes to continue the momentum his party is building, increasing awareness of his party and trying to cement them in the mind of voters as a credible alternative to the status quo. If he does well in the Clegg debate, and in the European elections a few weeks later, it will put him in a powerful position to claim a place in the 2015 leadership debates.

Ultimately, though, it is likely that there will be no knock-out blow, just as there was none in 2010, and that both men will be able to claim a victory of sorts. This outcome may in fact benefit both leaders. Farage will be able to keep steam-train UKIP on track, while Clegg may re-establish his relationship with those who warmed to him in 2010. The Lib Dems may even be calculating – though it is a high risk strategy - that strong UKIP performance in 2015 benefits them by hiving off Conservative votes in Tory-Lib Dem marginals.

Whatever the outcome, it is an important moment as we head towards 2015, with yet another first for British politics adding to the intrigue and uncertainty. We wait to see if Faragemania is about to break out. 

Tom Mludzinski (@tom_ComRes) is head of political polling at ComRes

Tom Mludzinski (@tom_ComRes) is head of political polling at ComRes

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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.