Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Independent's Yasmin Alibhai-Brown calls for the introduction of an alternative history syllabus in schools:

[O]ur children have a right to learn about British fascism as well as the battles and ultimate victory over Hitler; they need to be taught about how this country set up the conflict in Palestine, a conflict without end, and the mistakes made by the British government when Zimbabwe was created -- mistakes that are still used by the despicable President Mugabe. Idi Amin would not have taken control of my old homeland, Uganda, without British, Israeli and American connivance. Hardly anyone over 20 in Britain knows this.

In the Daily Telegraph, Boris Johnson hails Samuel Johnson's literary achievement 300 years after his birth:

It took 40 Frenchmen 55 years to produce a dictionary of French. It took the Accademia della Crusca 20 years to produce a dictionary of Italian. It took Johnson nine years to produce his dictionary, and he personally wrote 40,000 entries. When the Victorians began their great oeuvre in 1888, they called it the New English Dictionary, and it was new in the sense that it was the first to presume to move out of the shadow of Johnson.

The Guardian's Jackie Ashley argues that cutting middle-class benefits such as the winter fuel payment and child benefit would be a vote-winner for Labour:

If it were still 1996, or even 2001, this would have been suicidal. The whole game was about triangulation and persuading floating, aspirational middle-class voters to back New Labour. But times have changed. Millions of these people -- though not those in the public sector -- have already defected in their minds to Cameron and are a lost cause for Labour. What would be catastrophic would be the simultaneous defection of Labour's core vote.

The New York Times's Ross Douthat compares Barack Obama's attempt at health-care refrom with Bill Clinton's in 1994 and predicts that the Republicans won't capitalise in next year's congressional elections:

The even better news for Democrats is that they aren't up against Newt Gingrich this time. Gingrich was an ideological figure, but he was savvy enough to grasp the essentially nonideological character of the public's anger in 1994. The Contract With America, remembered as a right-wing document by liberals and conservatives alike, was actually a model of center-right incrementalism, with every bullet point carefully crafted to appeal to the voters who went for Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996.

In the Times, Peter Riddell says that the meetings between David Cameron and Brendan Barber are evidence of declining union power:

The unions hope they will have contacts with a Tory government, unlike their lack of access after 1979 when the Thatcher administration came to power. But that is a reflection of the unions' weakness now, not their strength. Mr Cameron is happy to talk to the unions because they are no longer a serious threat.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times