Where will Labour’s money come from?

This post originally appeared on LabourList earlier today.

Last week’s news that, like all parties, Labour’s income was down in 2011, comes as no surprise, as we’d just spent rather a lot of it on a general election – but nevertheless, sorting out party funding remains a major challenge. Labour’s new Commercial Director was due to start in post last week – there will have been many responses to Louise Mensch’s news this morning, but his is likely to have been “damn, that’s gonna be expensive.”

The kind of cash-for-access soliciting of donations ‘exposed’ (as though we didn’t all know it went on) earlier this year needs to become a thing of the past – if there are fifty shades of grey area, this behaviour is definitely at the ‘corruption’ end of the spectrum. The worry is that the coalition parties will take the excuse of a wide-ranging reform of party funding and use it to shaft Labour on trade union donations.

In April Ed Miliband made the ‘offer’ of a £5000 cap on individual donations, – something that would hurt us in the run up to general elections, as well as preventing the Tories from being able to promise that if you slip them a quarter of a million pounds you can chat to the PM over nachos. But the coalition parties rejected it on the grounds that it didn’t touch the £8m annual income Labour gets from the trade union political levy payers.

That was a few months ago, in the aftermath of the Bell Pottinger/Peter Cruddas mess, when all three main parties realised it was in the interests of us all to aim for a point at which the public does not see ‘politician’ as another way of saying ‘money-grabbing bastard’, and as a result Nick Clegg convened all-party talks on the subject. Since then, as the focus of political reform has shifted (i.e. to Nick Clegg tearfully insisting that since he didn’t get the Lords reform or the Kinder Egg he was promised, he is not going to tidy up the constituency boundaries, and he doesn’t care if he gets sent to bed early), we’ve heard little about it – but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away.

Peter Wheeler pointed out on LabourList yesterday that we’ll soon have to deal with trade union ballots to renew the political funds. If that’s a debate we only need to have within the unions, it should be a winnable one – but we should be prepared for more interference than that on the issue of trade union funding.

So what about Labour’s other income streams? There’s membership, of course. As you’ll have seen if you read the story above about our fall in income, our rate of membership increase drastically decelerated after the post-election frenzy and leadership election boosts of 2010 – we gained 38000 new members that year, and, apparently, 39 further new members in 2011. That’s quite a drop-off, and although a lot of it will be down to the rapid exits of those who only joined to vote in the leadership election, and the disappointment of those who were hoping Ed’s first act as leader would be to reinstate the old Clause Four, I certainly wouldn’t discount more practical concerns. Many of the new members we gained in 2010 joined at a reduced membership rate – I seem to remember there was a 1p rate at one point – and were catapulted up to the full cost when their first year of membership was up. Few of us have much disposable income to play with these days, and if a member hasn’t been engaged in the party in their first year, you can hardly blame them if their direct debit to us was the first one to go.

The +1 campaign, encouraging each Labour member to sign up a friend, is a good idea, since I’m led to believe that unlike me, most of our members know at least one person from outside the party. (I can’t help with this one. I’m all recruited out. All of my friends are either party members, former party members, or never going to be party members. My mom’s a member, my grandparents are members, my adult sisters are all members, my nine-year-old sister can play The Red Flag on the violin and my kitten’s called Kinnock.)

But beyond the membership rate itself, we need to improve what we’re doing to raise funds from our members and supporters. With a by-election due in Manchester on top of the police commissioner election, we’re getting back in the swing of raffles and auctions for signed whisky bottles and copies of Tom Watson’s book. But what else? As Emma Burnell pointed out a few months ago, there are a number of organisations in the UK and abroad from whom we can learn in terms of member-led fundraising – not only how to get our members to cough up for the cost of leaflets, but also how to ensure that they feel a part of the campaigns they contribute towards. There’s a balancing act here – if we hold a fundraising dinner where the tickets are £50, we’ll raise some money, but we’ll also exclude a lot of our own members from attending.

I believe the key here is variety – we need opportunities for contributions of all sizes, and I’ll be interested to see what John McCaffrey comes up with. In the meantime, if you’re looking for someone to raise funds for you locally, there are more than fifty people registered on Labour Exchange with the skills to help you out…

Introducing Labour Exchange

This article first appeared on LabourList on Monday.

Ever looked at a Labour leaflet and thought ‘I could have designed a better one than this’?

Ever spent half an hour of your life inviting all your Facebook friends to a phone-bank?

Ever thought you could do more for the Labour movement than knock on doors?

If your answer to any of the above is yes, then Labour Exchange is for you.

My friend Matt Doughty and I launched Labour Exchange yesterday after a lot of hard work. (Mostly by Matt. I don’t do coding. I just sent him a lot of emails saying things like “Ooh we need a logo!” and “Can we make it more like Fitocracy?” and “Why isn’t it finished yet?” ) NowI’d like to tell you why we made it.

The Labour Party’s members and supporters are our greatest asset. In fact, they’re – you’re – bloody awesome. I’m not exaggerating. In eleven years of membership, through by-election after by-election, conference after conference, a leadership campaign and thousands of tweets, I have met members and supporters from all over the country: people from all walks of life, with every conceivable skill, every kind of expertise.

But when all these multi-talented people come along to a branch meeting or a street stall, are the talents they bring with them put to good use? In my experience, usually not. They’re more likely to be sent off out on the doorstep and told to watch out for the dog at number 11.

Now, speaking to voters is without doubt the most important thing we do. But if it’s all we ever ask our members and supporters to do, we are missing one hell of a trick.

We created Labour Exchange because we believe Labour people have more to offer.

On Labour Exchange you can ask for help – or offer help – with everything from leafleting to organising an event. Think a sort of Labour Gumtree. When you log in you’re asked to list ways you can help Labour (and are willing to do so for free). This ranges from leafleting and door-knocking to more specialised skills: web design, speechwriting, fundraising. (Add as many tags to your profile as you like – if there’s something you can do that’s not already listed, suggest it to us over on the Feedback page and we’ll add it in.)

Other users can then search for someone with your skills – or they can create posts about a specific project. If it’s something you can help with, it will appear in your newsfeed.

What’s more, you can use Labour Exchange to create campaigns and campaigning events – and there’s no need to spend half an hour inviting all your friends, like on Facebook. The event will show up in the newsfeed of anyone in the right area who is interested in campaigning.

In Manchester we’re hoping to use Labour Exchange to help organise Lucy Powell’s campaign for Manchester Central. We’d love it if Labour comrades around the country can use it for your campaigns too (if you’ve got a #labourdoorstep session planned for this week, click here to make it a Labour Exchange event) – but don’t forget that you can do more than that. It’s called Labour Exchange for more than one reason. It’s a place to exchange skills – and to avoid the wasted potential we associate with the dole queue.

If you’re on Twitter, you can sign up with Labour Exchange right away. Click here to get started.

Hiring Friday: 29th June

This proved quite popular last week so I thought it was worth a repeat – here are some of the job opportunities I’ve come across in the last week.

On Thursday Fallowfield Library held a ‘work club’  jobs fair event with information about local vacancies and training opportunities. A lot of the jobs and apprenticeships that were advertised there are on The Works website, so if you’re in Manchester it’s definitely worth a look.

Living Streets are a London-based organisation who work to make our public spaces safer and more attractive. They’re looking for an admin assistant and a number of coordinator posts – have a look here.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals are after a Digital Project Manager – the deadline for this one is Monday! Hurry!

And if you want a job in politics – both Luciana Berger and Chi Onwurah are looking for paid interns, on the London Living Wage. These and other opportunities with Labour MPs are up on W4MP.

Why the country is like Marge Simpson and you might want to avoid the Noddy wallpaper

(This post originally appeared on LabourList on Monday June 25th.)

Living under this government is starting to feel a bit like being the wife or mother in a certain kind of family sitcom. A Marge Simpson, Lois Griffin, Jill Taylor, all the way back to Alice in The Honeymooners and probably beyond – throughout the decades, these ladies of the small screen have made the mistake, week after week, of leaving their husbands and/or children unattended, and come home to find the kitchen on fire, a holiday resort opening in the garden, a nuclear reactor in the airing cupboard. Opening the paper (by which I of course mean ‘browser’) or switching on the Today programme can feel a lot like this – pushing the front door open to see what harebrained scheme the ministerial gang has dreamed up in your absence.

“You said you were going to fix the education system! Fixit! Why is it all over the kitchen floor?”

“Hey honey, check it out!” he says, “I’m bringing CSEs back!”

“Oh, Michael,” you wearily sigh, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Yesterday, as it so often is, it was the Prime Minister, excitedly announcing to his long-suffering nation his plans to scrap Housing Benefit for everyone under 25. I almost hate to spoil his fun. I can even convince myself, sometimes, if I squint, that he means well. But it’s one of those moments where, as a country, we have to put on our best Marge Simpson ‘hrmmmm’ noise and say “David – sweetie – are you quite sure you’ve thought this through?”

Trailing a wider, long-term plan for welfare benefits slash-and-burn announced today, D-Cam told the Mail on Sunday:

A couple will say, “We are engaged, we are both living with our parents, we are trying to save before we get married and have children and be good parents. But how does it make us feel, Mr Cameron, when we see someone who goes ahead, has the child, gets the council home, gets the help that isn’t available to us?”’

 

We are sending out strange signals on working, housing and families. Take two young people: one who has worked hard, got themselves a reasonable job and is living at home thinking, “Can I afford to buy or rent a flat?” whereas another has got himself on to Jobseeker’s Allowance and then gets housing benefit.

 

One is trapped in a welfare system that discourages them from working, the other is doing the right thing and getting no help.’

 

We are still spending nearly £2 billion on housing benefit for under-25s – a fortune. We need a debate about welfare and what we expect of people.

 

The system currently sends the signal you are better off not working, or working less. It encourages people not to work and have children, but we should help people to work AND have children.’


Meanwhile 
in his speech today he is to say “For literally millions, the passage to independence is several years living in their childhood bedroom; while for many others it’s a trip to the council where they can get housing benefit at 18 or 19 – even if they’re not actively seeking work.”

 

Now, I’d love to go into more detail about everything that’s wrong with those last 250 words, but I’ve been keeping a sort of mental time-sheet and it’s becoming clear that I spend almost as much time criticising the Prime Minister while wearing pyjamas as I do on other, more essential life tasks, such as waiting for buses and worrying about how I’d defend my flat against zombies. So let’s all take a moment to shout “HOUSING BENEFIT IS AN IN-WORK BENEFIT!”, move on and have a look at how this is going to work in practice.

 

Cameron is clear about what ‘doing the right thing’ is. You leave school or university, move back in with your parents ‘in your childhood bedroom’, get a well-paid job immediately and save up enough money to move out, preferably into your marital home, where you and the new Mr. or Mrs. You can get to know each other while decorating the nursery. (Remember, your children will be expected to live in there until they hit thirty, so best to avoid the Noddy wallpaper.)

 

Let’s consider a few situations where that might not apply.

 

You can’t move back in with your parents. Maybe you’re a care leaver, or your parents threw you out (accounting for nearly 10,000 homeless households last year, with many more who won’t have shown up on the statistics).

Result: you’re homeless.

 

You don’t have a childhood bedroom. Maybe – rents being what they are – your parents simply downsized while you were at university. Or maybe a younger sibling now has your childhood bedroom. Yes, the Tories are coming up with policies to restrict the number of children poor people can have (and “David Cameron wanted you aborted!” would certainly have added an interesting flavour to our sibling rows as children, dunno about you), but what about families that already exist?

Result: Best case scenario, you’re on your parents’ sofa.

 

You don’t find work. Answering all the above cases with “Get a job!” is all very well – I mean, it doesn’t necessarily solve any problems, but it’s a snappy 3-word slogan, and that’s the main thing – but unfortunately it can be countered with the even snappier ‘What job?’ Back in April there were an average of 20 applications chasing every vacancy.

Result: If you’re lucky enough to still be living with your parents, by the time you’ve found a job and saved up enough, you could be there until you’re forty. If you’re not, you’re homeless.

 

You do find work. You’re living on your own, or with a partner, and/or with kids. You’re working, but your wages don’t pay the rent, so you get housing benefit to top it up. But you’re still under 25, so that housing benefit is taken away.

Result: Time to head back to the childhood bedroom, taking your own kids with you. Except that, of course, since you moved out, your parents were assessed as under-occupying their home and have been forced to move themselves. Hope there’s room for all of you on that sofa.

 

Your circumstances change. Congratulations! You’ve done the right thing! You’ve met the love of your life, you’ve got married (because spending £21000 on marquee hire and cake is all part of Doing The Right Thing, in this age of austerity), you’re living together, you have any number of beautiful children and you almost always know where they all are. Or, if it turns out that your mum’s sofa didn’t bring all the potential partners to the yard, you’ve worked and managed to save up and move out on your own. And all before you’re 25! Well done! Mr. Cameron awards you the Olympic gold medal for the 100-metre Right Thing sprint. Until your partner dies. Or leaves you. Or you get made redundant.

Result: see above.

 

Now, it’s tempting to think that exceptions will be made for the cases above. The Prime Minister has already promised an exemption in cases of domestic violence – he’s not a monster! He just wants to tackle the feckless youths!

 

But he seems to be ruling these exceptions out. Shelter have been crossing their fingers that these proposals won’t apply to parents under 25 – but Cameron has expressly criticised the benefits system for ‘encouraging people to have children’, which is his way of saying ‘ensuring that if people are not in a well-paid job, their children will still not starve’. Unless he goes back on this by retaining HB for households with children – thus undermining what he has set out to achieve – he’s going to need such a complex system of exemptions that the entire policy will be unworkable. Or he’s going to go ahead and make children homeless. It’s his call.

 

The problem successive governments, including our own, have failed to grasp is that there is no test for fecklessness. No feck detector, if you will. These rules are made crudely or not at all. If you decide to hurt single parents because you believe that having a child before you get married is morally wrong, then you are making a decision to hurt children. If you want to punish people for not looking for work, then you will punish people for whom there are no jobs to be found.

The Prime Minister is making his vision clear today – not another harebrained scheme, after all, but a very scary long-term plan, including the undignified jettisoning of the Liberal Democrats. We can hold all the policy forums we want about how to win the next election by courting the middle ground and the floating voters and the South – Cameron plans to win it by hurting kids and the vulnerable and the poor.

Our challenge is to beat him while remembering to defend those who need defending – not just to win, but to make winning worthwhile. Cameron’s vision for Britain means dividing our disadvantaged kids up between the streets and the sofas. We need to offer them something better than that.

Hiring Friday

I know lots of talented people, and some of them need jobs. (I am one of them.) What’s more, despite the fairly dire employment situation (unemployment up more than 10% on this time last year in Manchester, since you ask), I do occasionally see adverts for jobs. I am not qualified for most of them, but I probably know someone who is. Have a look at the links below – and click on them sharpish if they appeal, some of the deadlines are getting close!

Finance Administrator at George House Trust

Inclusion and Independence Group Coordinator at the Factory Youth Zone

Northern Service Young Women’s Development Worker at Women in Prison

UK Director of Business Development, Change.org

Senior Policy & Campaigns Officer, British Youth Council

And there are lots going at the Co-operative Legal Services.

Hope this is helpful to someone! Will try and mix it up a bit with some more school-leaver/recent-grad-friendly jobs next week.

I finally got my sodding ballot papers. Am I happy now? Not exactly…

Here’s how it went:

Last week I wrote this post for LabourList, expressing my growing alarm that my ballot papers for the NEC and NPF elections – along with those of a number of other members, particularly councillors – hadn’t shown up yet, and that with the deadline to vote looming, this could mean a number of people missing out on a vote. My basic concern here is that if you want to give members any confidence that these bodies can actually represent them – rather than being, say, a tokenistic and meaningless sham – you should probably try to make sure that everyone’s allowed to vote.

Later that same day the party sent out an email to NEC and NPF candidates, and all Labour councillors, saying that as a result of the above issues, they were extending the deadline to vote (from June 13th to June 15th) and also extending the deadline to request a replacement ballot paper to Monday June 11th. They also requested that members wait until after Saturday’s post had arrived before calling.

On Monday, being a patient sort, I decided to wait until after Monday’s post before calling. But – oops – the deadline for calling to request a replacement was noon, and it was afternoon before my post arrived. So, no votes for me.

Well, fair enough, my fault – I’d had a whole 3-hour window in which to call to chase up the ballot papers that should have been delivered to my house, and if I’d read the email properly I would have known that.

However, on the advice of one of the NEC candidates, I dropped a fairly irritable email to Iain McNicol, along the lines of: I live on the internet, and I’d still failed to get hold of the ballot papers I had a right to. How exactly were members who aren’t Twitter-harassed by the candidates on a daily basis – and, more pertinently, who don’t use email – supposed to know that there’s an election happening, let alone when the deadline for voting is or what to do if they haven’t received their ballots?

On Tuesday, callooh cal-frickin-lay, my ballot papers arrived! I voted with glee and alacrity (noting as I did so that the process of voting online involved entering the security codes from one ballot paper, voting, logging out, then entering the website address again, entering the security codes from the other ballot paper and voting again – which is great if you know how many ballot papers you should have, but is otherwise likely to involve a lot of unused ballot papers going in the recycling bin).

Today, I got a reply from Iain McNicol’s office. Ici:

Dear Ms Fletcher-Hackwood

Thank you for your email raising concerns about the internal Labour Party elections for which the ballot is currently in progress.

A number of members did contact us last week about late or non-arrival of ballot packs.  Although these had all been printed and posted by 29 May, it was clear that some deliveries in certain areas – specifically those relating to councillors (whose packs contained an additional insert and so were heavier and subjected to a different mail sort by the company involved) – got caught up in the post over the long Jubilee bank holiday weekend.

Throughout this process the Party has monitored the situation and been in constant contact with ERS, the independent scrutineer. Although it was apparent by the end of last week that ballots either had been delivered or were starting to drop in all areas, we were concerned that in a very small number of cases some packs were still caught in the mail.

As a result, in order to ensure that everyone would have the opportunity to case their vote, we extended the deadline for the ballot from 5.00pm on Wednesday 13 June to 12.00pm on Friday 15 June, and also extended the deadline for anyone who had not received their ballot paper to 12.00pm on Monday 11 June.  

A statement to that effect was posted on the Labour Party website and an email was sent to all candidates advising them of these new arrangements. In addition, an email was sent to all ALC members, as we were aware that it was among this cohort that the problem of delayed delivery was most acute. Those messages emphasised that the deadline for requesting a replacement ballot was midday on Monday 11 June. The reason for that was because we needed the afternoon to obtain the data and produce the new ballots in time to mail out on the Tuesday, so that people would receive the replacements in time make use of them.

I note from your message to the General Secretary that you acknowledge receiving that email. I am very sorry to hear that your ballot pack had still not arrived as of Monday morning, but since you did not contact us to request a reissue before the 12 noon deadline I am afraid we cannot send you a replacement ballot paper. However, I sincerely hope your ballot pack will arrive in time for you to vote in these elections.

More generally, we very much regret the fact that there were delays with some ballot papers as a consequence of postal problems, though I should stress that the number of requests for replacements has been extremely small. Nonetheless we will be reviewing the process to see what steps may be taken to avoid any similar such problems in the future.

Yours sincerely

Iain

Now, Iain McNicol is, of course, a dude. However, I think that email leaves a few questions unanswered. Like:

1. Was that extensions of deadlines anything like sufficient?

2. If ‘A statement to that effect was posted on the Labour Party website and an email was sent to all candidates advising them of these new arrangements. In addition, an email was sent to all ALC members’, then great, but how is the Party dealing with the potential disenfranchisement of every member who doesn’t use email, or even who doesn’t check them every single day? (And yes, that does apply to a lot of councillors, much as it drives me nuts.)

3. When I’m concerned that a large number of members may not have known these elections were happening at all, or when, whether and how they could vote, should I be reassured by the fact that ‘the number of requests for replacements has been extremely small‘?

Today on the internet 28/5/2012

What I’ve been reading today:

Like most of the UK, Manchester has for the last week had the kind of weather that makes you want to – in the words of Bridget Jones –  ‘panic, run out of the office, take most of your clothes off and lie panting on the fire escape’. Walking around, it seems that most people have succumbed to this – particularly in Fallowfield, where many of the students, untrammelled by offices, have been doing their revision in the park in various states of undress.

Amongst the minimally attired Manc masses, women who are covered up in the hijab, or other ‘modest’ dress, stand out more than usual. I’ve caught myself more than once thinking “I’m glad I don’t have to wear that in this heat”, and then wondered what I meant, exactly, by ‘have to wear it’. So I was interested to read this Comment Is Free piece by a woman who wears the hijab for feminist rather than for religious reasons. It’s a fascinating issue. Forcing any woman to cover up is clearly wrong – forcing her not to, other than for simple, short-term exceptions such as passport photos and security checks, is too. The issue of how we make the choices we do about what we wear is more nuanced – more often than not (and still more for women than for men), these choices are dictated not only by comfort and preference, but by the law, by our jobs, our income, our social circle, our upbringing, religion, and any number of other factors – but still, when you undress (sorry) the issue, it’s very simple. What women put on our bodies is as much of our own choice as what we put in them.

While we’re being strident – here’s a cheering interview with the hero that is Dennis Skinner. I’ve always said that, like Father of the House, the position of Dennis should be a semi-official role in the House of Commons. Though the traditions and institutions of the Commons are beneath contempt for the Beast of Bolsover, I still hope that one day an MP from a younger generation will be appointed Dennis of the House and charged with slagging off Black Rod and the Tories – but until then, long live Principled Skinner.

Video of the day:

I love this beautiful stop-motion animation of a night in a bookshop – the music, composed especially for this video, is lovely too. Also check out their earlier video, Organising the Bookcase, in which every book gets its name in the credits at the end.

And finally – the coolest thing I’ve seen on the internet today:

Weekend Reflections is a photography blog specialising in – wait for it – photos of reflections, taken at the weekend. They’re taken all over the world with a wide variety of compositions (and quality): I especially like the broken window and wing-mirror pictures below.

Today on the internet: street harassment, a low-budget British film and the happiest of pigs

A short one today, because the weather’s so beautiful I’ve been out basking…ha! As if. I was in the CAB in Salford where it is hotter than the surface of the sun and every time you turn a fan on, 900 pages of DWP bureaucracy blow in your face like some kind of austerity-era Noel’s House Party game. Anyway.

What I’ve been reading today:

Mostly just this, by Caf, about street harassment. It is very sweary but don’t let that stop you, for it is excellent. Here is a sample quote:

From the comments I’ve gathered, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only resolution is to stop being female, to walk around in a full body sack that hides any indication that I am in possession of a body, and which could possibly convince people that from my neck to my knees I’m actually made of Milkybars and jam.

Video of the day:

My friend Michael emailed me this link along with the words ‘Scary British alien predator film. Look good or terrible?’ I have thought about it and decided: good. What does everyone else think?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xiWZmFEiug&ob=av3e

And finally, the coolest thing I’ve seen on the internet today:

Forgive me from stealing this from Stylist again, but look. It’s a pig on a deckchair. Look at his happy little legs.

Today on the internet: jobs, job interviews, Tom Watson and Lego

What I’ve been reading today:

Following the government’s reluctant publication of Adrian Beecroft’s report on how much higher employment would be if bosses could simply sack people “if they didn’t fancy them”, as one of my council colleagues put it today – I found this Left Foot Foward piece, from back in March, pretty illuminating.

Also revealing was Cameron’s attempt at a comeback when Ed M called him on this in PMQs – no, not the ‘muttering idiot’ comment on Ed Balls, but the usual going on-and-on about the unions. I’m not sure anyone is convinced by the PM’s repeated efforts to equate the  Labour Party’s trade union link to the Tories’ link to the likes of Adrian Beecroft, who has donated almost £600,000 to the Nasty Party since Cameron became leader. But it is Cameron’s apparent conviction that only someone in the pocket of the union paymasters would care whether workers could be sacked, at will, for no reason, that really demonstrates how out of touch he is. We know he’s never had a real job, but does he even know anyone who has?

Zoe Williams meanwhile has been watching Clegg going on about social mobility, and she makes a point that all parties would do well to pay attention to: social mobility, by itself, is worthless. It’s the equivalent of one of my residents coming to me and saying that their street is messy, and me giving them the bus-fare to go somewhere else. We should strive to improve the quality of life for people of every class, not just facilitating a way for the brightest people to leave.

I also enjoyed this New Statesman article by Ed Miliband on his relationship with his Jewish heritage, and this trailer for a Tom Watson interview in the next issue of Prospect, which prompted LabourList speculation about the future of Watson’s political career.

Video of the day:

On an entirely different note, here’s a video about making a giant wave out of Lego.

And finally – the coolest thing I’ve seen on the internet today:

If you don’t follow Rhodri Marsden on Twitter, you really should. He’s a funny tweeter any day of the week, but he also occasionally asks his followers about their worst experiences with dating, Valentine’s Day, Christmas – and, today, job interviews. Quite a lot of the responses were laugh-out-loud funny, and he helpfully Storified them here. It’s hilarious until you remember we’re all going to need to go to a lot of interviews once the government makes it legal to sack us for no reason.

Today on the internet: Stella, Mara and maybe you

What I’ve been reading today:

Following on from yesterday’s interesting reading about Wonga, this story about their (apparently past) habit of telling frightening lies to debtors to get them to pay up seemed pretty timely. Meanwhile, Stella Creasy had a great piece at Politics Home about how loan sharks have jumped the shark. Her amendment to the Financial Services Bill, calling for a cap on the cost of credit, was defeated by 41 votes, so the campaign is now off to the Lords. Still, that size majority indicates a number of abstentions – maybe the message is getting through.

Video of the day:

Last year Greater Manchester Police created this safety film aimed at first year students.

They want to update it for the new intake in September 2012. If you’re a Manchester student who has been a victim of crime or anti-social behaviour in the city in the last year and are interested in appearing in the next video, get in touch through the Manchester Student Safety Facebook page.

And finally – the coolest thing I’ve seen on the internet today:

I actually saw this a while ago, thanks to Josie off’f Twitter, but I keep being reminded of it and felt the need to tell you all how exciting it is. Do you remember Mara Wilson? She was the little girl in Mrs. Doubtfire, and the little girl in Miracle on 34th Street, and best of all she was Matilda. In the imaginary world I inhabited when I was about 12 – the same one where I had friend-zoned all three of Hanson – Mara Wilson was my little sister. I often wondered what happened to her post-child-stardom, and remember reading on IMDB a while back that she’d quit the film industry and gone to university, which seemed as cool, in an understated kinda way, as it was disappointing.

And then I woke up one day and it turned out Mara Wilson is a 24-year-old feminist writer with a blog. She blogs a bit about what it was like to be child actor, but she also blogs about the arts and misogynist iPhone games and why she couldn’t date anyone named David. And she tweets a lot. And she does it all while still looking recognisably like an older Matilda, look:

I’ve never simultaneously felt  so old and so proud of an imaginary sibling.