FTSE up by 132; production up 16 per cent; Sven to be made a saint

Where were you? On the night it happened, what were you doing? Surely you can remember, will always remember. 'Twas a famous victory: that's what Old Kaspar remarked in that Robert Southey poem we all learnt at school - well, I did, being educated. It was on German soil as well, the Battle of Blenheim; Old Kaspar remembered it well, even if he couldn't remember the point of it all.

Southey, once poet laureate, would be so surprised if he came back now and found that, out of all the thousands of poems and dozens of books he wrote, he is mostly remembered for writing the original version of The Three Bears, for his poem about the Lodore Falls and for Old Kaspar's boring, banal observation about it being a famous victory.

In my lifetime, I can remember so many famous public events, such as England winning at Wembley in 1966, as I was there, and Kennedy dying in the year, er, whenever it was. That's about it, really. Until last Saturday. That should stay in my head for, oh, could be days and days.

We are in Lakeland, have been since May. Two months ago, my wife said what about getting three tickets for the Theatre by the Lake at Keswick for 1 September, for us and my sister, knowing she was going to be staying with us then. I said fine, good idea, go on, buy the tickets. Without looking in my diary. How could I have been so stupid? Yet for months I'd been counting off the days to the New Season and to the Big Match.

In June and July, I went searching the globe for anything footballish, anywhere: under-14 games in Albania, South American cups in empty stadia, Asian exhibition nonsenses, Scottish Third Division warm-ups, even women playing women. Yes, it got desperate.

Once into August proper, the real stuff was with us at last, and I went mad and lashed out £60 for the pay-per-view season, even though we won't be here for most of it. That hasn't been a total waste of money. I now know that George Graham is still alive and looking even sleeker and smoother, with his hair turning darker with every appearance.

It's been dead good, these past three weeks, having real football games to enjoy, but what I was looking forward to most was the Big One. When I saw that in my diary for 1 September I'd written "Skylight, Keswick", I could not believe it. I don't like the theatre anyway. And I certainly don't want to have to sit through some rant by David Hare. In fact, I'd pay good money not to. Which is what I did.

I drove them to Keswick early in the afternoon, dumped them in the street, shoved money into my wife's hand for the taxi back, and drove like mad over Whinlatter, getting back in time for Scotland's three o'clock game with Croatia. Didn't they do well, managing a draw, considering they have no decent players, but not as well as Ireland did against Holland.

I'd drunk most of a bottle of Safeway's Beaujolais by the time the England game started, telling myself I'll need something to cheer myself up, this is bound to be depressing. Outside in the fields, I could hear what sounded like an oompah band, playing very loudly. The Jerries are already celebrating, I thought, then realised it was the wedding. A son of one of our neighbours got married in the afternoon and the do was at night, in a posh marquee, just two fields away.

I thought of the people there, not best pleased that a wedding had clashed with the Big Game, then after six minutes, when Germany got their goal, I thought, well, they won't be missing much. We could be in for a hammering here.

When it got to 5-1 to England, I was sure I was dreaming, or drunk. Even weirder, I found myself thinking that Gary Neville had played quite well, a thought I thought I'd never think, not in this lifetime. Beckham was brilliant, Owen was awesome, Gerrard was great. Those poor sods at the wedding, those saddos watching David Hare in Keswick - imagine missing such performances. I didn't mind witnessing it on my own. Or opening another bottle on my own.

We all know what happened afterwards. Not to me. We won't go into that. To the world at large. It's been well documented.

Production in every office and factory in England went up next morning by 15.7 per cent, except in Liverpool, where it increased by 95 per cent. Sales of every newspaper have been 11 per cent higher, as Munich titbits were recycled all week, the FTSE has risen by 132 points, our gross national product for the month will break all records, 5,000 fans left for a pilgrimage to Sven's home in Sweden, 50,000 left for Rome to have him made a saint, the England medical team were all given knighthoods for services to Beckham's groin and Tony Blair called a snap election to cash in on the national euphoria. OK, I made up some of those things. But not the overall effects.

One effect on me is that I now have to acknowledge that managers matter. Almost all those players in Munich were available to Hoddle and Keegan - except, perhaps, for Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard. It was only last season that those two came through, became admired, got rated. All the others have been around and in the reckoning for the past three years. Yet Hoddle and Keegan buggered it up, couldn't fit the parts together, couldn't make the whole team work.

The other effect of last Saturday on me has been financial. I wilfully wasted a £10 ticket for a David Hare play, then forked out £23 for their taxi home. Sometimes I'm such a spendthrift. But 'twas money well spent . . .

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 10 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The love of a robot

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David Cameron's starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the governmen dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up t o£250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it. and reduce the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

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