The Tories shouldn't celebrate until there is growth for all, not just for some

If this is a recovery, the voters will ask, why aren't we feeling it? Cameron and Osborne need to offer answers.

It was just six months ago that many economists feared the UK would suffer a triple-dip recession. Now, after estimated growth of 0.8% in the third quarter, the economy is growing at its fastest rate since 2010. Output is still 2.5% below its pre-recession peak (in the US, by contrast, it is 4.6% above) and the recovery has come three years later than promised, but George Osborne has been the beneficiary of low expectations. 

Yet as Labour will repeatedly point out today, for most of the public this is no recovery at all. In the most recent month, average weekly earnings grew by just 0.7%, a real-terms cut of 2% and the lowest figure on record. Incomes are not expected to rise until 2015 and and will not return to their pre-crash levels until 2023. The minimum wage is worth no more than it was in 2004 and 4.8 million workers are paid less than the living wage. If there is growth, the voters will ask, why aren't we feeling it? 

The charge that this is a recovery for the few, not the many, is one the Tories are particularly vulnerable to. It was Osborne who chose to cut the top rate of tax at the same time as presiding over the longest fall in living standards since 1870. The Conservative response to Labour's cost of living offensive is to deride it as a distraction from the primary task of fixing the economy, but this message is ill suited to a time when 11 million people have had no increase in their real earnings since 2003. Rising GDP is no longer a guarantee of rising wages. By successfully framing the debate since the conference season, Labour has positioned itself to take advantage of this trend. 

The Conservative hope remains that higher growth will feed into higher wages in time for the election, but before then they need emblematic policies to convince voters that they are on their side. On the fringes of the party, there is much good thinking taking place. The Conservative campaign group Renewal, which aims to broaden the party’s appeal among northern, working-class and ethnic-minority voters, recently published a pledge card calling for the building of a million new homes over the course of the next parliament, a significant increase in the minimum wage, a "cost of living test" for all legislation and action against "rip-off companies".

But by deriding intervention in the market as "Marxist", the Tories risk positioning themselves as the defenders of a failing system. When Margaret Thatcher assailed her left-wing opponents in the 1980s, she did so in the confidence that her free-market policies retained popular support and were delivering rising living standards. Cameron does not enjoy that luxury. To avoid being repeatedly trumped by Labour, the Tories will need to replace dogma with action. 

Chancellor George Osborne during a visit to AW Hainsworth and Sons on October 24, 2013 in Leeds. Photograph: Getty Images.

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