European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso gives a press conference at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The EU's wise advice to the UK shouldn't be ignored

It's not up to the unelected commission to determine Britain's policies, but it has reason and evidence on its side. 

You can't accuse the EU of lacking chutzpah. Less than a day after David Cameron denounced it as "too big, too bossy, too interfering", the European Commission has called on the government to change its economic policy - and much else. In a document released last night, it urges Cameron to raise taxes on high-value properties, to increase the supply of housing, to adjust the Help to Buy scheme, to make childcare more affordable, to raise capital spending and to improve the implementation of Universal Credit. A day before the state opening of parliament, it adds up to a draft Queen's speech. 

Here are a few extracts:

Action is needed to further boost the supply of houses - by creating appropriate incentives to raise supply at the local level. The authorities should continue to monitor house prices and mortgage indebtedness and stand ready to deploy appropriate measures, including adjusting the Help to Buy 2 (loan guarantee) scheme, if deemed necessary.

Reforms to the taxation of land and property should be considered to alleviate distortions in the housing market. At the moment, increasing property values are not translated into higher property taxes as the property value roll has not been updated since 1991 and taxes on higher value property are lower than on lower value property in relative terms due to the regressivity of the current rates and bands within the council tax system.

The commission's proposals have prompted a predictably sardonic riposte from the Treasury: "As one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, we always listen to the commission's recommendations with interest." Conservative eurosceptic Dominic Raab said: "Having helped bankrupt the eurozone and delivered the biggest anti-EU election results in history, the chancellor can be forgiven for treating the commission’s advice as spam when it arrives in his inbox." 

But while it's not up to the unelected commission to determine Britain's fiscal policies (although like bodies such as the IMF, the OECD and every think-tank going, it was merely offering advice), the inconvenient truth for the Tories is that every one of its suggestions is entirely sensible. 

It would be better for the government to make property more affordable by building more homes, rather than subsidising mortgages. It is absurd that the council tax bands have not been updated since they were first introduced in 1991, despite house prices rising by more than 250 per cent since then. There is a strong moral and economic case for increasing taxes on land and property. (Wealth taxes are progressive and hard to avoid, and benefit the economy by shifting investment away from housing and into more productive industries.) It is lamentable that there are just 5,910 people claiming Universal Credit (994,090 short of Duncan Smith's original April 2014 target of one million) despite the government spending £612m on the programme. 

That it takes the profoundly flawed EU to tell the government all of this is the real cause for outrage. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

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 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism