Leaning in at the swimming pool: thoughts on Sandberg, Peterson and men being annoying

So I was in the swimming baths – Beckenham Spa if you want to know, which you do, nosy – and I was doing a few lengths of my pretty average breast stroke in the medium lane, and there’s a guy doing his pretty average front crawl, about the same pace as me, but after a while he decides

I’m in the wrong lane. My front crawl is so superior and stellar that, by rights, I should be in with the champions, in the fast lane.

So off he goes, to the fast lane, where he continues his sub-par thrashing about, where there is a woman doing what I would describe as proper swimming: front crawl, high elbow, easy breathing, not too much splash, cutting through the water with the smooth efficiency of a German stereotype

and she finds herself being obstacled by Mr Sub-Par Thrasher, who absolutely refuses to cede any lane space to her because, well, he’s got some balls, and she hasn’t, and that’s that.

All the other men in the fast lane were also:

  1. Not very good at swimming
  2. Not going very fast, and
  3. Not letting her go by.

So, after a while, she decides to sack it off and goes to the middle lane with a float to do some still-pretty-nifty legs-only lengths.

Which brings me to Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, which is basically 200-odd pages of gentle encouragement for women to, politely, not put up with men in the fast lane who want you to drop down a lane or, better, get out of the pool altogether.

Sheryl Sandberg: she’s probably doing an email with the other hand while posing for this photo

Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook, and probably up there with Stakhanov, Sisyphus and Sonic the Hedgehog as one of the hardest working S’s in the world, ever. Her idea of flexitime is taking a couple of hours off to have dinner with her kids, before working until the wrong side of midnight.

She thinks that if women were better at advancing their own and other women’s causes in the workplace, and men were prepared to do half the housework, you would soon be close to getting 50% of top jobs held by women. She thinks that would be desirable for both women and men.

It is fair to say that Jordan B Peterson doesn’t agree.

In his book, 12 Rules for Life, he takes the view that most women in really high-powered jobs back away from the demands of a career at the very top when they start having a family, because their priorities change.

Apart from him getting intense on Marxist postmodernists (by which I think he means the kind of spoken word poet types I hang out with) this is a really good book.

Peterson takes the long view that this is how men and women have always been, and it won’t change, so there.

Without wanting to align myself as a wishy-washy centrist, I’d say that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Sandberg outlines, with devastating honesty, the toll her work has taken on her family life. She talks about her daughter holding onto her leg at the airport telling her not to get on a flight (to do a talk about women in the workplace).

She admits, “The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or vacation are long gone.”

Obviously, most people aren’t up for that level of work devotion when there’s telly to watch and stuff. But perhaps more men are, as Peterson suggests, by their very nature, driven towards that kind of lifestyle, and to make those kind of choices.

Which brings me back to the swimming baths, and some questions:

Why didn’t the female swimmer simply swim more aggressively so that she asserted her rightful dominance as the best swimmer in the pool?

Is it simply human nature for men to want to dominate literally every situation except childbirth and the washing-up?

Clearly, I don’t know.

But it would be nice if just one geezer doing his bog-standard Sunday morning lengths could notice a woman who is better than him and, if he can’t admit she is better, at least revert to chivalry, and doff his swimming cap, and let her pass.

beckenham spa
A nice head and shoulders of Beckenham Spa. There’s a recycling centre in the car park as well.

Namedropping: a poem

At a wine and snacks gathering
in Canonbury, I was stood with
some adults discussing teaching.
In a despondent bid for attention
I said I had met Michael Gove
and liked him. “How can you say that?”
was followed by “he’s a dreadful man,
and you know it, Richard” at which point
I said he was only trying to raise standards
and what was the harm in that. Although
the party began to peter out
shortly afterwards, I stayed
until the end, insisting on
washing-up the glasses
even though the host twice said
there was no need.

Michael Gove

The fundamentals are looking good

The fundamentals are still quite good.

Cornish pasties are still being eaten
Office workers still having heavy weekends

Painters and decorators still being paid cash in hand
Ageing Prodigy members still living off the fat of the land

Dad’s still drinking whiskey, talking about fiscal instability
Mum’s still like when he’s like that I make myself a tea and go and watch the telly

Charity workers still doing their bit
South eastern trains still running like shit

Indie kids still wearing skinny ribs and smoking spliffs
England midfielders still got good engines, still lacking width

Renters still paying over the odds for poky digs
Quitters still nipping off for cheeky cigs

Yes, the fundamentals are still quite good.
The fundamentals are looking good.

Sadiq Khan is an extremist and always will be, whatever the evidence suggests


Despite a life of complete moderation, Khan is a dangerous extremist

Having read the national newspapers and listened to the comments of the Prime Minister over the past few weeks, I have become convinced that Sadiq Khan is, and always will be, a dangerous extremist.

I have noted with horror that, as a lawyer, he sometimes interacted with people accused of crimes. I have been left open mouthed by his willingness, as a Muslim, to talk with other Muslims – some of whom don’t preface every remark they make with a full-throated rendition of Land of Hope and Glory and a sizeable donation to Help for Heroes.

Needless to say, I was not expecting such a man to win the London Mayor election. I expected the noted beer-drinking, tube-travelling, Bollywood-loving man of the people Zac Goldsmith to canter to a comfortable victory.

Aghast at such a turn of events, I read, in my Daily Telegraph, remarks made by Mr Khan in his victory speech – and after contorting his words out of all context I realised my views about this man’s unsuitability for office were confirmed.

You have probably already realised that I am referring to Mr Khan’s incendiary assertion that he will run London “for all Londoners.”

This shocking statement means the man now in charge of our capital is not just running London on behalf of decent, hard working people who pay their taxes and want to get on.

Khan is running London, brazenly and unashamedly, on behalf of pimps, vagabonds, litterers, terrorists, fakers, wake and bakers, narcissistic selfie takers, doggers, diggers, liggers, laggers, taggers, newly-returned backpackers, members of the campaign for real ale, people who eat crisps made out of kale, traitors, idiots standing on the wrong side of escalators, thieves, northerners who talk constantly about how bad London is but somehow never leave, looters, Gooners, those smug posh people out after the riots waving their brooms, thugs, people who reserve tables in pubs, arrive late and don’t even have the decency to get drunk, retards in moustaches, members of ISIS, people who think they are saving the planet by driving a Prius, and, finally, people who act all polite and nice but are quite the opposite.

Khan, with his being the avowed Mayor for all Londoners, brings the above under his banner of seeming moderation.

Yes, this even-handed approach by Khan might not seem like much of a reason to criticise him. Yes, Mr Khan may, on the face of it, be the blandest of bland politicians. Yes, he might have an entirely modest agenda of restraining transport costs and doing a bit to make the housing system fairer. Yes, it might be quite good the way his dad was a bus driver and he grew up on a council estate.

But I am not going to sit back and accept that the Daily Telegraph, The Mail, the Prime Minister and all the rest didn’t have a fair point when they suggested that Sadiq Khan is a dangerous extremist.

I, for one, will continue to believe these trusted servants of the public interest – whatever the facts suggest.

In defence of the Queen’s innocent Nazi salute

Harmless fun...the royal zieg heil
Harmless fun…the royal zieg heil

As a staunch royalist, I would like to express my own personal disappointment that footage of the Queen and Queen Mother innocently zieg heiling has been published by The Sun.

My own personal take is that it was harmless fun. My grandmother often spoke of how our family did the same in the 1930s before going to synagogue. It was just what you did in those days, and people lacking historical perspective should not think otherwise.

The Royal Family’s record on diversity and equality speaks for itself. You only have to look at the long line of royals marrying people of different races – and indeed social classes – to see that quite clearly.

Similarly, we should not take offence that Prince Charles gave an Asian friend the nickname Sooty, nor that Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi at a party, or called a colleague a “Paki”.

None of these innocent and harmless incidents should in any way damage the credibility of the Royal Family, and its divine right to rule over us.

On a day like today, the Queen and the Royal Family need our support more than ever. I for one will not be shirking my duty.
To this end, I shall be spending the day outside Buckingham Palace, singing God Save The Queen, goose-stepping and Zieg Heiling as I do so.

Harmless fun
Harmless fun… Prince Harry
Harmless fun...Prince Charles
Harmless fun…Prince Charles
Harmless fun... Prince Harry
Harmless fun… Prince Harry

2015 General Election: 10 reasons why the Conservatives won

In the days immediately after the General Election, my Facebook feed was filled with people despairing about the Conservatives getting into power, and wondering how such a thing was possible. The general opinion was that the evil Tories hate poor people, want to sell off the NHS and create a country serving only the elite.

Yet, if this were true, how did they get 10 million votes and a majority in Parliament?

Here are a few reasons, in reverse order of importance (to build the tension for you, dear reader).

10. Nicola Sturgeon

A politician who has actually met some voters...Nicola Sturgeon
A politician who has actually met some voters…Nicola Sturgeon

Labour weren’t just outflanked on the right by the born-to-rule boys; they were outflanked on the left by the brilliant, utterly authentic Nicola Sturgeon. The SNP leader is the most convincing politician in the UK, and with the SNP’s momentum off the back of the referendum, Labour never had a hope in Scotland.

9. The TV debates
Like most people, I didn’t watch the TV debates. I was busy drinking red wine. But I did see that moment when Ed Miliband looked down the camera and made his appeal to the country…and shuddered. It was like being propositioned by a giant eel.

Thank goodness more voters weren’t paying attention, or Labour’s electoral defeat would have been much, much more convincing.

8. The media
We all know that the media is mostly run by right-wing oligarchs. There were a couple of ways Labour could have addressed this. Either, like Tony Blair, you cosy up to the media to win their support. Or, you use a combination of traditional campaign methods of leafletting and door-knocking, together with modern techniques of social media to get your message across. Rather than do either effectively, Labour had a weird pink van which they drove around the country to demonstrate their pointlessness.

Harriet Harman busy patronising women
Harriet Harman busy patronising women

7. Labour’s demonisation of rich people
In their twin policies of getting rid of the bedroom tax and introducing a mansion tax, Labour thought they had a winning formula. Unfortunately, it was quite the opposite.

What Labour were engaging in was the classic left-wing mistake of asking people to be better than they are. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of humans. I think we are terrific. But if I was in charge of a political party, I wouldn’t think of asking people to vote for policies that do not materially benefit themselves, or people they know.

The bedroom tax is a hideous piece of policy and getting rid of it would make the world a bit better. Great: do it. Having a mansion tax makes sense as well, because rich people’s tax burden could be greater.

Both of these policies are fine, but they have very little to do with the concerns of the majority. And without significant policies which would help the, let’s say, 95% of people who are unaffected by either tax, it is Labour saying, “help poor people, attack rich people, don’t worry about yourself.”

Moreover, as Tony Blair annoyingly but accurately pointed out about three seconds after Miliband conceded defeat, you don’t win elections without supporting aspiration.

6. Pensioner bonds
Pensioner bonds, launched earlier this year by the Tories, were seen as an overt attempt to buy the grey vote. The old codgers duly said thank you very much.

5. David Cameron
People on the left tend not to notice, but David Cameron is quite good at his job. He is a very effective communicator. He keeps things simple, and manages to convince a lot of people that his interests, and those of his rich mates, are the same as the national interest.

Also, he managed to keep the Coalition together with very little infighting. Of course, the Lib Dems did a splendid imitation of a lapdog, but Cameron must have had some personal charm to keep things smooth.

In addition, and in a big change from Labour, he didn’t reshuffle his Cabinet every five minutes. You get the feeling that he put people in charge of a department and trusted them to do the job. This steady approach meant the Tories, whatever you think of their policies, have been remarkably unified.

4. The advantage of incumbency
It is easier to look like you should be in charge when you are in charge. And in the five years the Tories have been in power, the economy has grown (a bit) and nothing has gone seriously wrong. (For example, they haven’t got into bed with a twattish US president when he suggested killing a few hundred thousand muslims.)

3. Ed Balls
Ed Balls looks like a Nazi, and, in his strident, boorish, self-regarding approach to politics, acts like one. He is a charmless thug who makes you reflect that perhaps George Osborne isn’t that bad, after all. A massive well done must go to the people of Morley and Outwood for kicking him out.

Ed Balls brings his unique brand of thuggery to the football field
Ed Balls brings his unique brand of thuggery to the football field

2. The first-past-the-post system
Under almost any other democratic electoral system, the Tories would not be in sole charge of the country. As has been widely noted, UKIP got four million votes, and one MP. That could be the most unfair result in the history of our democracy. It is an embarrassment and hopefully all the other parties will campaign for this system to change. But because the system also benefits Labour, it probably won’t happen any time soon.

1. Ed Miliband
With this socially-awkward, political geek as leader – from a confusingly monied yet Marxist background – there was no way Labour was going to get back into power. As Ken Clarke said on the telly this morning, “politics, in the end, comes down to personalities,” and Ed Miliband’s personal ratings were always unwaveringly disastrous.

What a wonker.
What a wonker.

Ed Miliband was elected to the Labour party leadership because he is essentially a good natured, kindly, if rather otherworldly, person who wants to help people.

Yet the British public took one look at Ed Miliband and saw, instinctively, that they couldn’t trust him to go to a European summit and not embarrass them. Moreover, they saw that here was a man who didn’t know a thing about cricket or football or theatre or music or failure or boozing or sex. And when he did talk about politics, he talked in his indefinably strange, tongue-too-big-for-his-mouth way that would make Gandhi want to give him a clout.

Ed Miliband was the greatest gift the Labour party could give to the Tories. Cameron and co simply stopped referring to Labour – knowing that the party which created the NHS still has a big emotional pull for many people – and referred only to Ed Miliband.

The Tories, seeing this fatal flaw, quietly but relentlessly asked, and I’m paraphrasing here: “Do you want a commie weirdo in charge of the country, or do you want a team of public schoolboys who won’t interfere with your life too much?”

Ten million people – people who are primarily looking out for their own interests, just like everybody else – decided they preferred David Cameron over Ed Miliband.

And if Labour are to get back into power, they should stop trying to attack these people, but seek to understand them. If they do that, Labour might one day regain power.