16 debates, 48 hours, 100s of members, countless ideas
Why are we fiddling with plastic straws while the world burns?
“At times we seem like hypocrites because when we focus on one thing there are so many other issues we are ignoring. There are so many layers to it, it’s sometimes hard to know what the first step is.”Digby, Tortoise member
“Plastic is the other side of the coin of climate change. Plastic is oil. When we look at the consumption of plastic, we’re also looking at the history of the consumption of the fossil fuel industry. It doesn’t take away from climate change, it feeds the conversation.” Sophie Edmonds, CEO of the Water Smart Foundation.
“Do we change how advertising is seen so we include warnings about climate change in the same way that cigarette packets say if you smoke this, it will kill you. Do we introduce labelling on fast fashion or airline companies that says: You can do this but the end thing is that it’s going to destroy the world.”Zuleika Sedgley, Associate Partner at Pentagram
The future of the Conservative party
“One of the strengths of the Conservative Party has always been that it is fundamentally pragmatic and would quite like to be in power, please.” Rachel Wolf, former policy adviser to David Cameron
“I joined the conservative party to meet boys.” Judith, Tortoise member
“The difficulty the Conservative Party has is the same that other parties have, which is that they are a response to a society which doesn’t exist anymore.” Amol Rajan, BBC media editor
Things that cannot be said…
“We talk as if Ricky Gervais is in a prison for making these jokes. He’s got a lot of money and no-one has ever censored him. The ‘political correctness has gone mad’ idea comes from people who have never been silenced, who try to position themselves as the underdog and as the victim.” Scarlett Curtis, writer
“You should be able to say what you want, that’s freedom of speech. If you want to say the n-word on stage, you can. But you might get punched in the face.
“I live in the US, I’ve never had a problem [with abuse]. But when Trump became president, I got called [n-word] four times. And I live in New York.” Michelle de Swarte, model and TV presenter
“I’ve never been a victim of my weight, because of my upbringing and the way my parents raised me to give me an armour. But comedy is so subjective… everyone will react to something differently. Some fat people will love fat jokes, some will hate them, it will depend on that person’s experience about being fat.” Jayde Adams, comedian
Dayo Forster, a Tortoise member, brought her friends Millie Dok-Williamson and Muthoni Garland to the ThinkIn on abortion and abuse.
For several years both were involved in running StoryMoja, a Nairobi children’s publisher. In the wake of Kenya’s post-election violence in 2007-8 they collaborated with the country’s human rights commission to run a series of events for children promoting peace and co-existence.
“As a Kenyan woman, I might have a very different opinion of human rights and that can sometimes be problematic for me,” Dok-Williamson said at the ThinkIn. “I don’t want ideals imposed on me that say ‘this is what a feminist should look like’ or ‘this is what a liberated woman looks like’. There should be a space in our feminism where we can have different ideals.”
Should men and women be paid the same in sport?
“The girls’ team has one team over the whole school, and the boys have three. They go to different tournaments. Even in the corridor there are more pictures of the boys.” Student guest
“I don’t think it’s fair, because when I was in primary school there was a girl that I used to play with and she was MUCH better than most of the boys. She was probably the best in the whole school.” Student guest
“There is overwhelming evidence that people have just as much appetite for women’s as for men’s sport, and there is just as much opportunity for ad revenue. So of course they should be paid the same. It’s not even an interesting question.” Eddie Ramsden, director, Lewes Football Club
Have the royals pulled off a marketing coup?
“The Royal Family are not a brand, the monarchy is not a brand, it’s an institution… it’s a family,”Sally Osman, former communications director at the Royal Household
“They have to be very careful not to cross the line between being a member of the Royal Family and being a celebrity” Roya Nikkhah, royal correspondent for The Sunday Times
Praha, 22, works for a bank and says one of his friends tweeted that he joined Tortoise, so he went to a ThinkIn about AI. “It makes me aware of subjects I would never have stumbled across,” he says. Including whether it’s OK to watch Love Island.
Should university be free?
“University gives you a level of social capital and for that reason education should be free so you can at least get that capital and mess it up rather than not get it at all.” Shakira Martin, outgoing president of the National Union of Students
“I don’t think the system is broken so I wouldn’t entertain very radical fixes. It is achieving the three goals of any student finance system. I do however recognise that we have problems with the perception of it.” Jo Johnson, former Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation
“If you have that message that university is there and it’s free, I think that is a much easier message for teachers like me to sell. Work when you’re 11, 12, 13, and when you’re 18 you might be able to go to university.” Bobby Seagull, teacher and University Challenge star
“University gave me confidence. It gave me the ability to debate and I made friends from all over. University is important and I think that everyone should have that option.” Claudia Winkleman, TV presenter
The future of the Labour party
“This situation is so tragic when I think that 15 years ago there was a centre-left, pro-European, social-democratic government which had won two thumping majorities and I ask: why did that fail to leave a legacy?” Paul Lusk, Tortoise member
“The thing that is missing – and this is a problem for both Tories and Labour – is a real understanding of English identity.” Helen Boaden, Tortoise member
“I think we are in danger of splitting off geographically into different parties. London is so different. Things get so much coverage in London that don’t have relevance to anyone else. If you ask most people in Wales ‘what is Crossrail?’ they won’t have a clue.” Carwyn Jones, former Welsh First Minister
Paul Lusk, 71, is retired after a career in housing and neighbourhood organising. He heard about Tortoise through a friend, is the author of a book on the religious right and is involved with voluntary work and Christians Against Poverty. He finds issues such as housing are framed in the mainstream media is a predictable, pre-packaged way and enjoys the ThinkIn format: “I like the finding of time and space for fresh thinking.”
What is Britain’s role in the world now?
“In some ways the country that will be damaged most by this populist phase will be ours, the UK, and we need to recognise that because of the costs posed on us by Brexit.” Sir John Sawers, former head of MI6
“Despite the troubles we’re going to go through in the next six months or so, I think it’s going to make all of us more in control, or thinking about our role in the world, and we will be compelled to see opportunities wherever they exist.” John, Tortoise member [not pictured]
“The reason I think the UK and other comfortable, established countries – you can include Japan and other parts of Europe – aren’t great at innovation is that we’ve never had to be.” Mark, Tortoise member [not pictured]
“I think the standard of debate in Parliament is not what it used to be. I think in terms of picking your MPs, I don’t think people really want to be an MP anymore. They’re worried about public scrutiny,” Fiona Hill, former adviser to prime minister Theresa May, in conversation with Sir Peter Westmacott, former UK ambassador to Washington
Zuckerberg and Putin, partners in crime?
“Russian disinformation first of all is targeted to Russians to keep them rallied around the leader, and to everyday wake up and watch the news [and see] how bad it is in the West.” Orysia Lutsevych, research fellow at Chatham House
“A lot of Facebook groups are closed… It’s normally relatively easy to get membership, but even that small barrier means they’re even harder to see in the open air. The lies, propaganda, and misinformation spread in them is often pretty horrific.” Rowland Manthorpe, technology correspondent, Sky News.
Irene, 26, and Hugo, 27, are civil servants living in London. Before moving to London they lived in Hong Kong and they’ve been doing their best to keep up to date with the pro-democracy protests there. They said it’s important to them that Tortoise takes the time to investigate how tensions with China are changing. Their favourite Tortoise stories so far have been the personal ones.
Is Britain becoming more intolerant?
“We’re talking about the LGBT community as if it’s one thing. But actually when you look within a minority group like the LGBT community there are massive intolerances within it… the bit that no one seems to talk about is what the effect [of] muting and blocking and living online is having on how we function as a collaborative society.” Asad Dhunna, founder of The Unmistakables and communications director for Pride.
“The biggest mover of hate crime, to push it in the wrong direction, was a political issue and not a terrorist one…, where you have the vote of Brexit, which has pushed it to such a degree.” Tasnime Akunjee, criminal defence lawyer specialising in terrorism law [not pictured]
Tattoos: an InkIn
“As tattoos normalise, people have to go one step further. Every human endeavour has an extreme edge.” Alex Binnie, owner of 1770 Tattoo in Brighton
“They wouldn’t hire a female apprentice because she’d be too distracting. To this day, they’ve never had a woman working in the studio.” Dominique Holmes, tattoo artist and activist
Susie Walker, 37, works at a media company and as a part-time stand-up comedian. She’s been a Tortoise member for a few months and enjoys reading international stories that aren’t usually reported on, such as ‘Murder At An Indian Wedding’ by Amit Sengupta, about caste violence. “I would never come across those stories normally,” she says. Susie found the InkIn on tattoo culture fascinating, but definitely still doesn’t want a tattoo.
Abortion and abuse: Are women under threat like never before?
“I think that when you are successful it causes a lot of fear. Women have made such strides that they have threatened men in such a core way that there isn’t any clarity amongst men as to what to do next. And so those on the fringes, the far right, the Trumpians, because they are so clear and so blatant in what they say they seem to be taking over the narrative. But I don’t think it’s a true reflection of what’s inside us.” Madami, Tortoise member [not pictured]
Pay and perks: is inequality the price of prosperity?
“There is going to be massive wealth transfer when the baby boomers transfer property wealth to their children… that will create an inequality bump.” Kamal Ahmed, editorial director at BBC news
What’s the price we pay to be pretty?
“It’s a huge industry for this country. We should be so proud. You walk in the streets and there are amazing goths with their stuff going on and people come here and look at us because we are so fabulous. The British Beauty Council, when they formed a year ago, put the figure of £18 billion on it. The car industry is £20 billion. Why don’t we get that kind of respect? It’s because girls and gays like it.” Hannah Betts, writer, interviewer and columnist
“As someone who purchases a lot of cosmetics, if I think of them and their branding, I think it’s actually quite gorgeous at the moment. We’re seeing a really nice moment of young people from across the gender spectrum and all different ethnicities and abilities being reflected in that part of the marketing sphere.” Joe Sutherland, comedian, actor and former model
Tess McCann is one of our New York members. “I became very disillusioned with the American press after 2017,” she says. “I was an avid New York Times reader, but when Hilary Clinton lost it made me realise just how much easily news organisations can fall into an echo chamber. That’s why I was so interested when I saw that Tortoise was trying something different.” After taking part in the “What are we for?” ThinkIn, Tess wants Tortoise to investigate the advisers and aides working behind the scenes in politics.
Photographs by Tom Pilston, David Bebber and Jon Jones