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Personally, I blame Fergie

Hunter Davies' "The Fan" column.

I made the most awful mistake last week. Not as serious as Fergie’s, but pretty embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing as that plastic-coated leather maxi coat the colour of light caramel I bought in the Sixties in Carnaby Street after a drunken lunch. Now that was embarrassing. But the bigger mistake was giving it away to a charity shop. Would have been a period piece by now. Comme moi.

That Downshire Hill house in the best part of Hampstead. I went to an auction in 1980 and could have got it for £57,000, but didn’t. What a mistake. But things we didn’t buy and stupid things we did buy, those are just normal, run-of-the-mill, routine mistakes.

This was a professional mistake. I was doing a piece about Gareth Bale and wanted to name his daughter. Really, just to impress my wife. She is always asking me how John Terry’s twins are getting on, and Stevie Gerrard’s three daughters, as if I should know. She never watches a game but knows vital details about the Prem stars. Well, she is an hintellectual.

I went on the net, no sign of Gareth’s daughter’s name. So I contacted a good friend at Spurs, long-serving, senior person who should know such things. Took him 24 hours but he emailed back to say the baby was called Ava. I rushed upstairs to where my wife was working, her Conway Stewart fountain pen in hand, opened her door and said, guess what.

“I am working,” she said.

No, you’ll be interested. I know the name of Gareth’s baby!

“It’ll keep,” she said.

Over our lunch, I said three guesses. Failed totally. I gave a clue – it begins with an A. She got it. And added that John Prescott’s granddaughter is also called Ava.

Then, bloody hell, five days later there was a piece in all the back pages in which Jermain Defoe talked about Gareth’s daughter – Alba Violet. Oh my God, what have I done? My credibility as a totally ace football expert is buggered. I contacted my Spurs contact, who apologised profusely. One of his assistants had got it wrong, presumably misheard Ava for Alba.

The point of this story is that it was not my fault, OK? Just as it was not Fergie’s. He totally blamed the ref who gave a red card to Nani for Man United’s embarrassing defeat by Real Madrid. I personally totally blame Fergie for what happened next.

He frothed, he steamed, he ran down steps, shouted at the ref, went red in the face, even redder than normal, and lost it . Because of his loss of concentration, he ignored what was happening on the pitch – which was total confusion and chaos among his players.

Now, it is a manager’s job, however stupid the ref has been, to keep calm and instantly reorganise his team, depending on which player has been sent off, or get them to stay solid and do what they are supposed to do in such circumstances. Surely they have practised playing with ten men enough times. That’s what training is for.

He did nothing when the players needed him most, and then for ten minutes they acted as stupidly and blindly as he had done. Meanwhile Mourinho reacted at once, not sending on Karim Benzema, whom he’d lined up, but instead Luka Modric, who waltzed around the midfield, taking advantage of all the space and United’s panic. Fergie is old, in his seventies, poor sod. But come on – get a grip.

Forgot to say, John Terry’s twins are called Georgie John and Summer Rose. Gerrard’s daughters are Lilly-Ella, Lexie and Lourdes. And, oh God, another awful mistake. She’s just told me it’s a Waterman pen not a Conway Stewart.

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 18 March 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The German Problem

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.