Clegg comes unstuck on jobs scheme

The Deputy PM struggled to deny that the jobs scheme will be paid for by the working poor.

As expected, Nick Clegg has this morning announced the government's belated response to the youth unemployment crisis. The £1bn scheme (previewed by Gavin Kelly on his New Statesman blog yesteday) will see wage subsidies worth £2,275 offered to employers to take on 160,000 18- to 24-year-olds over the next three years.

If it sounds a lot like the Future Jobs Fund (FJF) set up by Labour and scrapped by the coalition, that's because it is. There are some differences. The scheme will not operate in the public sector and it provides a smaller job subsidy - £2,25 per job rather than the £6,000 subsidy offered by the FJF. But it still represents a significant U-turn by the coalition. As Gavin wrote on his blog yesterday, the government, confronted by the scandal of one million young people out of work, has been forced to swallow its "ideological opposition to wage subsidies".

The question, for a government that refuses to spend a penny of new money, is how will it be paid for? The Treasury has briefed that the money will be found by not uprating tax credits in line with inflation, a move that would penalise low and middle income earners. Asked to confirm that this was the case on the Today programme this morning, Clegg floundered. He insisted that "this £1bn isn't paid for by one particular tax change or one particular welfare change" but refused to deny that tax credits would bear the brunt. The Deputy PM went on to restate his belief that the majority of savings should come from those with "the broadest shoulders", pointing to the bank levy, the rise in capital gains tax and the crackdown on tax loopholes. But this only begs the question: why isn't the new scheme funded through such a measure? Rather than cutting tax credits, the government could have levied a wealth tax on the asset-rich.

Sounding ever more uncomfortable, Clegg fell back on the line that the full details would be in George Osborne's autumn statement next Tuesday. But, as we have learned, when forced to choose between squeezing the rich and squeezing the poor, the Chancellor squeezes the poor. Clegg's jobs scheme will be balanced on the backs of the least well-off.

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