PMQs sketch: An irrelevant sideshow

Ed may have had a blustering Dave on the ropes, but he couldn't land the K.O.

There have been days when the House of Commons could claim to be the centre of world events.Today was not one of them.

As Occupy London stole the domestic political agenda on the steps of St Paul's and the Greek PM hijacked the rest of Europe with an outrageous threat to involve his own people in their destiny, the best Dave could do was to apologise in advance for the "most unpleasant-looking thing I have to do every week".This was not, as you might imagine, slipping his hand up the back of his Deputy's jacket to ensure continuation of the coalition, but turning up for Prime Ministers Questions.

This revelation came by way of Grazia magazine, where he is starting his campaign to win back the women voters who have gone on the run since they worked out that his  promise, "we are all in this together", didn't apply to them. PMQs pushes you into coming across as a "macho, aggressive male," he said before adding,"that's not the real you" --- which is a bit of a shame since that's the one who turned up. 

To be fair to Dave it's not just women he has fallen out with. Many on his own side have failed to fall for the charm. Tory MPs have a unique way of demonstrating their disloyalty by upping the volume of their support in direct proportion. So after mugging him on Europe last week they went Richter-plus on the noise-ometer as he went about his "unpleasant thing".

Each week now Ed Miliband turns up at the Despatch Box knowing in advance he has the Prime Minister on the ropes. Sadly, his North London comp has not given him the lessons in bullying and roasting which Eton College gave to Dave and so sometimes having got him on the ropes, Ed lets him go. He has been concentrating more on his technique but he never looks comfortable with the killer punch, and so it was today.

Of course it did not help that Ed had decided that though Europe might be on everyone else's lips, it was not going to be on his. Dave was equally happy to avoid the subject of his regular nightmares and neither leader wanted any further discussion about referendums and asking the voters etc, whether in Greece or anywhere else.

Ed obviously reckoned he had enough to skewer Dave on the home front. Did the PM think a growth rate of 0.5 per cent a success or failure? What was he going to do about boardroom pay rises? Why was none of this anything to do with him? Why was he so out of touch?

Dave was so wrong-footed he even said the Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking for the country when he condemned boardroom excesses -- although he recovered enough to baulk at the Archbishop's call for a Tobin tax.

By now Labour was in full throat as Ed Balls, totally at home on the bullying front, egged his leader on to shriller tones. Even Ken Clarke, used to treating PMQs as his pre-lunch nap, stared about him with some confusion at the noise before Speaker Bercow intervened to appeal for calm. "Its only six minutes past," he said in that withering British style that might be slightly lost on MPs in other countries.

As some of the more corpulent MPs fought for breath, former Chancellor Alistair Darling tried to put an end to the irrelevance of the proceedings by saying more detail was needed on the eurozone bail-out plan. He even mentioned Greece.

There had been agreement last week, said Dave; without mentioning his Greek equivalents decision to ask his people if they had a view on being screwed. Sixty seconds later he was on the much safer ground of keeping foreign workers out of the country. A lot of them could be Greeks.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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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