The four big tests for Nick Clegg

And tuition fees is not among them.

No sooner had the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition been created on 11 May than people start asking how long would it last -- and how long would Nick Clegg be part of it?

Ladbrokes, at least, believes that the current Lib Dem leader is likely to be there at the next general election, nominally on 7 May 2015. The bookmaker is offering a less-than-generous 1/3 that he will still be in place, and 2/1 that he will have been replaced.

All of which prompts Mike Smithson over at PoliticalBetting to ask what would prompt -- or force -- Clegg to stand down before 2015. For starters, Smithson identifies four upcoming tests over the next six months:

For Clegg a lot could depend on three elections in the next six months - the [Oldham and Saddleworth] by election, the English locals and the Scottish and Welsh votes on May 5th and, of course, the AV referendum on the same day.

And concludes:

If the yellows beat expectations in just one of those then I think that he's safe.

An October YouGov poll put the Lib Dems on 8 per cent among the Holyrood electorate, while just a third of UK voters are in favour of the alternative vote. So perhaps expectations are already being managed downwards, albeit inadvertently. A heroic failure to see the AV referendum through or something less than wipeout in any of the array of forthcoming elections will strengthen, not weaken, the Lib Dem leader. Perhaps.

One area that Smithson doesn't touch on directly, but that has tested Clegg's authority, is university funding -- and likely for good reason. Last Wednesday's protests and those at 30 Millbank on 10 November offer a measure of the disquiet out there, but do nothing to change the parliamentary arithmetic.

It's true that some 31 Lib Dem MPs -- all of whom have significant numbers of student voters in their constituencies -- may rebel against plans to allow universities to charge up to £9,000 per year. However, in order to defeat the government a rump of Tory backbenchers would need to join them -- and that is not going to happen.

So, tuition fees don't present an immediate danger to Clegg and the coalition but they have made him public enemy number one among a significant constituency of voters. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Tim Montgomerie notes:

There is also anger about U-turns on nuclear power and the pace of deficit reduction. [Clegg] needs to remind voters that he forced Tory concessions, too - a voting system referendum and dropped commitments to cut inheritance tax, reform human rights laws and upgrade the Trident nuclear deterrent.

But those hoping that Labour can capitalise on Clegg's woes are likely to be disappointed. As Montgomerie rightly points out, Labour's attack has been blunted by divisions between leader Ed Miliband and "enforcer" Alan Johnson:

Ed Miliband should be facing an open goal - but standing between the posts is Alan Johnson. The Labour leader wants a graduate tax - an extra levy on those with a degree - to which his shadow chancellor is completely opposed. In an open letter to Mr Miliband, shortly before accepting his new role, he wrote: "For goodness' sake, don't pursue a graduate tax. We should be proud of our brave and correct decision to introduce tuition fees."

 

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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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