The Rise and Fall of David Cameron’s ‘Boy Genius’ Tech Guru

A former rising star of the Tories’ tech strategy, Rohan Silva was considered the future of the U.K. technology industry. But the Whitehall high flyer’s career has stalled: he’s now an office manager in Shoreditch. His promised “ed tech” startup failed to materialise and questions are being asked about how much he really achieved at Number 10. What went wrong?

“Ro,” 33, who raised royal eyebrows earlier this month when he showed up for a reception with the Queen wearing a pair of Converse sneakers, was one of the darlings of Tech City—the Government’s name for a cluster of technology businesses in east London, of which Silva claims in interviews to have been chief architect.

But, as the dust settles after the failure and mothballing of the Tech City quango, local businesses are scratching their heads, wondering how their cheerleader-in-chief ended up renting out desk space, instead of transforming the future of education, as he so noisily claimed he would when he abruptly left the government.

Silva’s track record in government was impressive, if you believe what you read in the papers, the tech blogs and on his own assiduously maintained social media profiles. And with his tousled hair and natty dress sense, it’s easy to imagine why a man who looks more like a Shoreditch barfly than a traditional senior policy advisor might have impressed the suits in Westminster and the blazers in Mayfair.

Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the son of Sri Lankan immigrant parents who came to the U.K. in the 1960s, his life before 2004 has been scrubbed from the internet. We only know what he tells the papers: for example, that his wife Kate McTiernan is an architect who specialises in designing mosques.

But he has, in his short career, been showered with honorifics from afar: Massachusetts Institute of Technology granted him research affiliate status last year, and he was made a policy fellow at Cambridge University in 2011, a position which lasted until 2013.

Independent editor Amol Rajan said last year that he was “destined for great things.” A fawning profile appeared in trade rag Tech City News in 2013. (It’s a gruesome read: you can almost see the writer’s erection beneath his gushing prose.) TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher similarly described him as “undoubtedly the prime architect of the U.K. government’s sea change in attitudes towards the tech startup entrepreneur community.”

Silva landed at job at the Treasury in 2004, on what his LinkedIn profile earnestly documents as the “Fast Stream.”

After then working under George Osborne, Silva ended up in David Cameron’s inner circle, alongside Andy Coulson and Patrick Rock. He quickly acquired a reputation as the Tory administration’s man in the know when it came to Britain’s digital economy. Seemingly, no one bothered to ask why Silva was so obsessed with consumer internet startups, the one segment of the technology industry the U.K. has never excelled at.

Silva was given broad license to suggest ideas to improve the conditions for internet startups—or, at least, to give the impression that Cameron’s government would care about the scrappy cluster of digital businesses in east London. (The Tories were anxious in opposition to underscore their entrepreneurial credentials, so Silva was charged with dreaming up eye-catching but inexpensive initiatives to remind the electorate that the Conservatives were the party of small business.)

After a great deal of vacillation and several protracted negotiations with potential employers stretching back as far as 2011, Silva eventually left the government. “Rohan’s too big for Number 10,” one of Cameron’s other advisors told the Independent at the time. Silva briefed several newspapers that he was departing to launch a tech startup that would change the face of education. 

But the startup never launched, and Silva found himself calling in favours at Index Ventures, whose cosy relationship with the Cameron administration had already yielded dividends, with partner Saul Klein appointed the U.K.’s “Tech Envoy” to Israel. Index threw him a bone, and Silva accepted an “entrepreneur-in-residence” position—considered a stopgap for aspiring entrepreneurs who have failed to come up with an idea, raise funding of their own or join a startup. That position lasted a year. 

Now, he runs Second Home, a co-working space in Shoreditch renting out desk space to startups, and is “Chair” of a website called Spacious that also advertises office space. It’s quite the comedown for the man celebrated ad nauseam in the tech press, though perhaps it’s fitting: after all, his crowning achievement, Tech City, has been a horrible failure, its operations quietly rolled into Boris Johnson’s development agency, London & Partners, last year. 

Tech City lost staff, funding and its national remit in the process, and now exists largely as a branding exercise within L&P. Its critics are bolder than ever before: barely a week goes by without an op ed criticising the outfit for inaction or for the negative consequences of its existence, such as prices going up around Old Street. 

Of course, Tech City was championed by an eccentric cast of characters, most hand-picked by Silva, in its short but checkered history. Original chief executive Eric van der Kleij jumped ship before the bad press began to accumulate—though not, of course, to start his own company, since van der Kleij is still the subject of an individual voluntary arrangement, an alternative to bankruptcy.

Silva has made a point of claiming credit for the appointment of Joanna Shields, a former female tech role model who bombed out of a promising career at Google and Facebook to do public relations for the London borough of Islington. She then rapidly distanced herself from her “CEO” title at Tech City and now styles herself “Chairman,” which better befits the reality that she has never been contactable by the public.

(Shields’ only communication with startups has been the unsolicited emails she sends to Tech City CEOs, which offer no option to unsubscribe. That’s against the law, and has earned her the nickname “Spam Queen” among some mean-spirited startup founders.)

Rohan Silva has a reasonable claim to other accomplishments in government besides Tech City, which is perhaps just as well. Yet just how much credit he can claim for policy innovations, and how effective those innovations have been, is the subject of debate. The “entrepreneur’s visa,” for example—useless outside the EU—appears to have been more of a team effort than Silva implies in his Index Ventures profile. 

Silva also claimed he would be “tough on red tape,” as though that were in any meaningful sense within his remit, but businesses say that, if anything, regulations have been increasing over the past few years, thanks to Brussels legislation over which the British government has no control.

Certainly, Silva can be said to have pioneered the science of ingratiating technology blowhards with government departments. Tens of millions of pounds have been spent on public relations since Tech City officially launched in 2011, but the beneficiaries have not been small businesses, who have only seen their rents go up: instead, careerists and vacuous motormouths have had their obeisance rewarded with lavish receptions at Buckingham Palace and press coverage foisted by the government upon credulous journalists.

In one newspaper profile last year, Silva went so far as to claim he “created” Tech City. That came as news to startups, which are the real, organic drivers of growth in the area. In fact it is difficult to establish what, precisely, has been achieved by the government, since its own metrics are so notoriously unreliable, where they exist. 

Numbers that have emerged from the government departments claiming to measure the success of the Tech City initiative, whether they relate to employment, investment or simply the number of companies started, have been plucked from thin air, with the inevitable consequence that no one believes a word anyone in the public sector says any more. 

This unnecessarily lost trust, a lack of credibility and the daily ridicule to which the Tech City project is now subjected, perhaps explain why its mastermind’s accomplishments after government have been so bitterly unprepossessing. But the greatest mystery is how Rohan Silva reduced an entire industry to giggling, infatuated schoolgirls—attracting the sort of praise normally reserved for religious deities—while achieving vanishingly little for businesses suffocated by over-regulation and tax. 




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Salt Lake Police Under Fire Over Dog Shooting

Several Salt Lake citizens are irate after a police officer entered a fenced yard in search of a missing child then shot a 110-pound Weimaraner  named “Geist” when he felt the dog presented a threat to him. The child was later found asleep at home.

“In this particular circumstance, evidence shows that the dog was extremely close, in fact, within feet of the officer. “After 23 years in law enforcement, I haven’t seen this type of public outcry when certain human beings have lost their lives,” Burbank said.

“So I get to bury my dog because an officer couldn’t back up and close the f—— gate,” said the dog’s owner, Sean Kendall, who also released a video of the encounter.

“I believe this officer made a terrible judgment call,” Kendall told the station. “In my profession, if I make a terrible judgment I’m fired. “

Several dog owners and dog lovers came out to protest the shooting.

The protest included many dog owners, who brought their pets. The protesters held signs that read: “Shoo not Shoot,” “Man’s best friend should not be gunned down,” and “My pets are my family.”




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After 20 Years, the ‘Rebbe’ Still Casts a Long, Warm Shadow

July 1 marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Schneerson was a uniquely charismatic and visionary leader, who pushed back against the postwar trends of secularism and disenchantment and presented religious Judaism as a positive force. In so doing, he inspired hundreds of thousands of Jews to embrace their faith and revived Judaism in post-Communist Eastern Europe.

Schneerson, who won the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously in 1994, was also profoundly pro-American, believing the United States to be a dynamic force for good in the world. He foresaw that the 1979 Iran hostage crisis would lead to a general weakening of American influence around the world that would encourage future challenges against the U.S. and its allies, both by the communist empire and the rising tide of radical Islam.

Two new books, timed for the 20th “yahrzeit,” celebrate the life of the man known to many simply as “the Rebbe”: My Rebbe, by Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz; and Joseph Telushkin’s Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History. Telushkin’s biography has breached the top 100 list on Amazon and is the website’s #1 best seller in biographies of religious leaders.

Ten years ago, Sue Fishkoff documented the Rebbe’s success in building a global religious empire in The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch. The Rebbe’s model was simple: send emissaries–usually young religious families–to communities where Jews were present but lacked strong organization, and offer them as much Judaism as they were prepared to enjoy, without watering down doctrines or practices.

It was just such a mission–the Chabad House in Mumbai–that Islamic terrorists targeted in their deadly attack in India in late 2008. What was newsworthy, above and beyond the horror of the event, was the fact that there was a thriving Jewish community in the heart of Mumbai at all. The Rebbe’s shluchim had established outposts across the world, wherever Jews may dwell or travel. In the U.S. alone, there is a Chabad House in 48 states.

The Rebbe also recruited donors to invest heavily in Jewish education. Some of his efforts were controversial for competing with existing Jewish institutions. Many of those institutions–particularly in the Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism, which sought to bridge tradition and modernity–have faded from existence, while Chabad has thrived. The Rebbe sought to provide an alternative without opposing other Jewish sects directly.

Throughout his life, the Rebbe counted–and was courted by–political friends from both sides of the aisle. His most difficult political episode came in 1991, when his motorcade accidentally ran over and killed a black boy. In the ensuing Crown Heights riot, fanned in part by Al Sharpton, a visiting Jewish student was murdered by a mob. To this day, the victim’s family blames Sharpton for the death, though Sharpton denies inciting the mob.

The Rebbe’s legacy and teachings remain peaceful and relentlessly positive. He and his wife, Chaya Mushka, were childless, and no one replaced Schneerson as the figurehead of the Lubavitch Chabad movement. Still, it continues to grow and expand around the world, inspired by his example. His disciples continue to reach across national and political divides to unite Jewish communities and to bring Schneerson’s message to world leaders.

Photo: AP




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VIDEO: Huge Explosion as Palestinian Terrorists Hit Israeli Factory

Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on Saturday struck an industrial factory in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, according to a report from the European Jewish Press (EJP).

A video that shows the incident reveals how damaging the so-called “home made” rockets used by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad can really be.

Sderot is just one kilometre from the Gaza border, and when air raid sirens sound, residents have less than 15 seconds to find their nearest shelter. Most buildings and schools in the area have been made bomb proof, though this is of little consolation to those in cars or walking on the street.

The EJP reports that four workers were inside the factory when the rocket hit.

“Two of them, 23 and 59 years old, were taken to the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon suffering from light burns.”

“A fireball rose 200 meters from the burning factory, it was horrible,” said one of the injured.

Read more at the EJP website

WATCH: 

Correction: This article initially carried an incorrect video circulated online




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Europe’s Juncker To Earn More Than Obama, Cameron, and Any Other EU Prime Minister

As Breitbart London reported just hours after Jean-Claude Juncker was nominated to be the next president of the European Commission, the (allegedly) wine-sodden and certainly triumphant Juncker is now in line for a €321,000 (£257,000) a year salary, a private plane, 24-hour personal television camera crews, an entertainment allowance, fabulous pension, a staff of flunkies, and thousands of euros in allowances.

Today the Sun newspaper added up those earnings and benefits into what the paper called “a giant £1.8million pay and perks bonanza,” including a £52,500-a-year pension after Juncker finishes his five-year term at the Commission, plus a £184,222 “residential allowance” over the term and monthly expenses of £1,135. On leaving office, he will get a £20,469 resettlement allowance.

Juncker’s salary is about £120,100 higher than that of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who earns £142,500. It is also $40,000 more than U.S. President Barack Obama, and at least €100,000 (£80,000) higher than that of any prime minister in the European Union.

However, Juncker is not alone is being paid far more than the democratically-elected leaders of the EU member states.

According to research carried by the European Voice in April, all the top unelected EU-elite earn more than any democratically-elected national representative.

The president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi at €374,124 (£299,728) earns even more than the commission president.

Herman Van Rompuy, unelected president of the European Council, earns €321,238 (£257,358).

Catherine Ashton, whom Gordon Brown took from from being a British Labour quangocrat to the job of the EU’s foreign policy and security representative, earns €297,521 (£238,358).

A plain-vanilla European Commissioner earns €255,300 (£204,532), while the four commissioners who have been given the rank of vice-president of the commission earn €286,500 (£229,528).

A member of the Luxembourg-based Court of Auditors receives the same pay as a commissioner. No auditing experience is required for the job, only a political appointment by a member state government.

All of these eurocrats earn more than the British prime minister, and more than Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany (€204,192/£163,587), President François Hollande of France (€178,920/£143,341), and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy (€207,360/£166,126).

According to the European Voice figures, even eurocrats no one outside Brussels has ever heard of earn more than prime ministers. The anonymous Peter Johan Hustinx, European Data Protection Supervisor, has a salary of €255,300 (£204,532) a year, while an unelected and almost unsackable top civil servant at the commission will pull in €220,452 (£176,614).

These EU salaries are calculated without the added perks, such as the allowance for children and free education at elite European Schools which would cost anyone else up to €11,000 (£8,812) a term. Nor do the pay levels reflect the privileged light level of taxation which eurocrats pay, all covered by the average British and European taxpayer.




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