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Do lay it on thick

Be proud if you're blessed with bushy eyebrows

It is news that will please Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy: big eyebrows are back. Of course, eyebrow fashion doesn't have an impact on most men, but it wouldn't harm either pol itician to be a teensy bit fashionable for, some might say, a change.

I am blessed with superb eyebrows. They are neither bushy nor like running stitch, but well formed, arched and worthy of a star of the Hollywood golden era. I say this with no im modesty, because I had nothing to do with it: they are a gift from my mother (my father's, bless him, are big, strong eyebrows that could never be tamed).

Mine are plucked, very gently, into neatness with Tweezerman tweezers, the very best in the business. But be prepared to pay about £15 for a pair. It is one of the few things that make me panic, appearance-wise: if I mislay my tweezers. So now I have two pairs.

Thankfully, I am further blessed by never having understood the fashion for pencil-thin eyebrows, and also blessed with eyebrows that do grow back (some people's don't once plucked, be warned). So any mistakes have been easily rectified. Not that I've made many, because my mother terrified me at an early age about not touching my eyebrows (I didn't even dare tidy them up until I was 30). Yet the fashion this season isn't just for neat brows, it is for positively hedgerow-like ones, the sort that birds could nest in quite safely. This proves a real conundrum for women who have overplucked throughout the years. I simply can't understand why you can have almost anything done to your face: wrinkles plumped up, lips plumped out, eyes lifted, lashes extended; but you can't, at least not easily, have eyebrow extensions put in. Surely, there's a gap in the market there?

But I am glad of this fashion for girls who have big, bushy, unapologetic eyebrows because they needn't feel ashamed of them. In fact, it can be the perfect excuse to spend money on them. Both Urban Decay and Benefit do little boxes that contain brow powder, wax, tweezers and a mirror - perfect if you're the sort of person to spend hours fiddling with your face. I have personally never got on with brow pencils, gels or powders, but I'm sure they have a place in the world.

What you do need if you have brows of any depth is a good brush/comb specifically for this purpose. Kent does a great one, the Eye Groomer, with a comb on one side (fantastic for getting clumps of mascara out of lashes or foundation out of eyebrows) and a brush for, well, brushing. Taming gel is also a good idea if you have a brow-shape that's basically good but prone to dishevelment: Boots No 7 does one (still £10, though!), as does Cosmetics à la carte. Some people advocate Vaseline to keep them in line but if you get even a smidgen over the browline, you look shiny and weird. Mind you, that's next season's look.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Labour: How to save the party

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.