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Miliband needs a Gould memo

Labour is being outfought and out-thought by the Tories. Someone needs to tell its leader.

In 1995, just as people were beginning to get their head round the fact Labour was heading for government, a memo popped up from Philip Gould telling them they were wrong. Focusing on Labour’s internal organisation, Gould warned that Labour’s strategists were dangerously uncoordinated. What was needed was “a unitary command structure leading directly to the party leader”. Amid cries of “control freakery”, this rigid command structure was duly established. And the rest is history.

Ed Miliband urgently needs his own Gould Memo. Labour is being outfought and out-thought by the Tories. The big strategic battles are starting to be won – with relative ease – by the coalition. Welfare, Europe and the economy, (which should be a slam-dunk for Labour), have all been ceded to the coalition.

There are several reasons for this. The Conservatives, aware they made a mistake writing off Ed Miliband early in his leadership, have gone on the offensive. Ministers are finally allowing David Cameron to build a fragile firewall between his government and the crises of last summer, the so-called omnishambles.

Yet the biggest problem is that Labour’s top team is not sufficiently organised to meet the new Tory threat.

“Ed’s got some good press people and he’s got [Jon] Cruddas trying to sort out policy structures,” said an insider, “but there’s no one to manage political strategy. No one’s saying, ‘Well, we could say this and get a good headline in the Mirror tomorrow, or we could say nothing and get a dozen good headlines in two and a half years’ time.’”

There are a number of people within Miliband’s inner circle who could qualify for that role. There is Tim Livesey, his chief of staff; but while Livesey is respected for his organisational skills he is widely regarded as insufficiently “political”. Another candidate is his senior adviser Stewart Wood, but his strengths lie in policy and he is seen by many in the shadow cabinet as a political theorist rather than a strategist.

Miliband himself relies heavily on the counsel of his old flatmate Marc Stears, but Stears is perceived by some as too academic and insufficiently willing to challenge his lifelong friend. “Ed uses Marc as a political comfort blanket,” says a source.

Another high-profile candidate is Tom Watson, the barbarian who single-handedly tore down the gates of the Murdoch citadel. But there are some people who question whether Watson has the appetite or discipline for such a role. “When you’ve got used to turning up in restaurants and having people like Dustin Hoffman sending over a bottle of champagne, strategy meetings can become a bit dull,” an MP told me.

The person who many shadow cabinet members agree would be best suited for the role is Michael Dugher. Gordon Brown’s former spokesman is well regarded – and liked – across the political spectrum, and is seen to have a killer instinct, aligned to the judgement about when to use it.

“Dugher would be perfect,” says a shadow cabinet source, “but what he needs is for Ed to give him the formal authority to start pulling things together.”

It would require Dugher to adopt a lower profile, start tweeting a little less about curries and Yorkshire puddings, and tone down the pretence he’s just emerged from a Barnsley pit-head. But he could yet be Ed Miliband’s Philip Gould.

And Miliband needs him. 


This article first appeared in the 04 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Intervention Trap

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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.