Commons Confidential: Who’s laughing now?

Plus: Bad news for Ivan Lewis.

Photographs of a giggling David Cameron and George Osborne are Ed Miliband’s secret weapon. The shots of the Laurel and Hardy of the Con-Dem coalition laughing their heads off in the House of Commons trigger the strongest anti-Tory reaction when Labour hands round the snaps in focus groups. Government is viewed as a serious business and the photos reinforce the image of Dave the Dandy and Boy George as a couple of out-of-touch Bullingdon toffs. Labour is discussing how to exploit this. Deckchair Dave’s rave in Ibiza post-Woolwich will have heightened the PM’s vulnerability to suggestions that he’s more interested in spare time than in work time.

Tory chatter is growing that Cameron may recycle Andrew Mitchell. The former chief whip, forced to resign after an altercation with a Downing Street police officer, has retained his old office on a cabinet corridor behind the Speaker’s Chair. The failure to eject Mitchell is viewed as evidence that Cameron has a guilty conscience and might give him a job, should he be absolved of Plebgate.

Bad news for Ivan Lewis: Lembit Öpik was mistaken for the shadow international development secretary. I overheard a Labour MP’s former researcher say, “Oh, there’s Ivan Lewis,” in the Strangers’ Bar. Alas, it was a false spotting. Your correspondent looked up to see the Libido Democrat, not the Labourite, barging through the door. There is an uncanny physical resemblance, but if the pair were separated at birth they’ve gone different ways. Öpik the Cheeky Boy is an attention-grabber, while Lewis just gets on with the job.

To Cardiff Bay for a Welsh Assembly seminar on the “democratic deficit”, otherwise known as a whinge about the media. Assembly members feel neglected, especially by British national papers. They’re wrong if they believe extra column inches automatically lead to voters in polling booths. Turnout in the 2011 assembly elections, at 42 per cent, was higher than the 38 per cent for the exhaustively covered Ken v Boris battle for London. The turnout among 60 AMs, by the way, was 1.67 per cent, with only the Tory David Melding, the deputy presiding officer, attending the morning bout.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow Treasury minister, wins an award for being Labour’s best networker. Hers was the first handwritten note of congratulations received by a wannabe Labour MEP. Good manners and clever politics, should Reeves ever wish to run for the party leadership.

Male snappers in need of equality education shouted, “Squeeze up, girls,” when Harriet Harman posed for a photograph with Labour women outside the Commons. The thin smile on Sister Harriet’s face said she’d heard it all before but wasn’t going to bite.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Montage: Dan Murrell/NS

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 03 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Power Christians

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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