A thank you from the Idler Festival. Plus: Uber – what took the press so long? asks Tom Hodgkinson
May I thank everyone who came along to the Idler Festival in London this weekend. What fun we had. And you really made it. Our performers remarked on what a wonderful audience you are.
“It was one of the best and most receptive audiences I’ve ever had,” said Matthew Green, to take one example. “Lovely audience,” said Lauren Child. Ben Moor commented, “I was immensely pleased with the reception my piece got from the bright and beautiful audience.” And medievalist Seb Falk wrote to us to say: “Lovely to hang out in such a wonderful place with such interested and interesting people.”
For those of you who weren’t there (which is of course most of you), there are some pics here which give you a feel for the weekend. We’re also going to upload audio recordings of most of the talks to the members’ area of the website, so you can listen at your leisure. So stay tuned, as they say.
We’ve already started planning next year’s event and will let you know as soon as tickets go on sale.
In other news, when it comes to new stories on the evil of Uber, it’s a case of Idler told you so.
This week the Guardian has been running an excellent investigation called The Uber Files. Based on documents leaked by former Uber lobbyist Mark MacGann, the story says that the ultra-aggressive Uber broke the law and lobbied in an unethical fashion, loaded with investor cash as it was. It seems whole hosts of the ruling classes, as is their wont, threw morals out of the window in their chase for a share of the Uber loot.
The Guardian was good on the role of Rachel Whetstone, grand-daughter of the battery chicken salesman and Hayekian libertarian think-tank founder Antony Fisher. She took a considerable amount of Uber shilling till 2017, having joined the monopolising, undercutting minicab scam from ad sales giant Google (she’s now at Netflix).
My question is, what took the Guardian so long? Many of the revelations about Uber in the paper will come as no surprise to readers of this newsletter. They will recall that I’ve been an Uber hater from day one. In 2015, over seven years ago, I wrote a piece for the Idler speculating that Whetstone was behind requests to Boris, then mayor of London, to leave Uber alone. Two years later, there were stories in both the Guardian and the Daily Mail saying the same thing. Now we read a confirmation in the Guardian of all my worst fears about Uber.
Here’s my original piece from 2017 (note the large number of comments defending Uber).
And here’s another Uber piece I did in 2019, Is Uber Evil? This time the comments are slightly less enthusiastic about Uber.
Let me know what you think. Do you still like Uber?
I prefer my bicycle. It doesn’t destroy lives. (Though it did land me a 50 quid fine last week).
These comments were mailed to us after an earlier version of this piece was sent out as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts.
I loathe Uber. They will run you down in the street for a fare. They always park where no one else is allowed to.
Thank you for your newsletter which always gives me back my spirit of being thrifty and resistant towards capitalism and consumerism. I think you were completely right about Uber. I don’t trust them, and as a woman I wouldn’t use them anyway as I wouldn’t feel safe. Uber is destroying livelihoods and the drivers should go on strike.
You’re so right about Uber. Airbnb… all of it. Completely inaccessible to those of us stuck in the bronze age, technologically speaking. No Uber here. Can’t even buy a ticket on an aeroplane.
I worked in America in 2016, ’17 and ’18, mostly out of Chicago, but also spent time travelling to other US cities as part of my work, and small towns for leisure. When I first arrived my younger British colleagues were always trying to get me to use Uber. As a liberal, left of centre, I wasn’t happy with the idea, and insisted on using taxis. But after a few rude and poor experiences with taxis, compared to occasions when I rode with my younger colleagues, I started to change my view. I became a frequent user of Uber and its rival Lyft whenever public transport or walking was not available or unsafe. I became a real convert, not least because of the great conversations I would have with the drivers, sometimes African American guys from the South Side of Chicago fascinated to find out more about England, sometimes suburban housewives earning a few bucks between school runs, or folks earning a bit extra after finishing their office job before joining the family for dinner. Even a Hispanic-American lady who couldn’t speak a word of English, struggled with her satnav and relied on my limited Spanish to direct her to my destination over the next 45 minutes. I have no idea whether Uber are evil. But I do think that as a society we could benefit from ride-sharing apps that give control to individuals about when and how they earn, and that could reduce the number of vehicles needed, and reduce the dead miles that are an absolute given in most UK taxi and private hire trips. Sometimes I worry that the thinking on this is driven from a London perspective. In London I only ever use black cabs.
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