Ed Miliband speaks at Senate House on November 13, 2014 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband comes out swinging for the mansion tax

The Labour leader has doubled-down on his strategy of painting Cameron as the friend of the rich and himself as the friend of poor. 

Rather than being unnerved by Ed Miliband's clash with Myleene Klass over the mansion tax on The Agenda, Labour aides regard it as a valuable opportunity to make the case for a popular policy. At today's PMQs, Miliband did just that, contrasting his support for the mansion tax (backed by 72 per cent of the public) with David Cameron's support for the bedroom tax (opposed by 59 per cent). In response, Cameron sought to defend the latter as the removal of the unjustified "spare room subsidy" but he was fighting a battle lost long ago. 

Aided by the proximity of tomorrow's Rochester by-election, and the Tories' now certain defeat to Ukip, Miliband had opened by dryly remarking: "Let’s see if they’re still cheering on Friday". He later declared: "Two of the people behind him have jumped ship. And the other people are waiting for the result to see if they should follow." Cameron predictably sought to turn Miliband's encounter with Klass to his advantage, deriding his "pasting from a pop star" and quipping: "We’re not seeing a Klass act". But his jibes only served to demonstrate how unwilling he was to make a principled defence of the mansion tax. 

In response, Miliband threw populist punch after populist punch (evidence of the fire inserted in the leader's belly by the newly-promoted Jon Trickett and Lucy Powell) . "He only feels the pain of people struggling to find a £2m garage. That is this Prime Minister," he declared (a reference to Klass's moan that it was impossible to afford more in London). He went on to turn to the NHS, Labour's strongest suit, and the promised recipient of the £1.2bn the party hopes the mansion tax would raise.

But it was Miliband's last line that will live longest in the memory. "We all know, Mr Speaker, why this Prime Minister thinks the bedroom tax is great and the mansion tax to fund the NHS is terrible. If you’ve got big money you’ve got a friend in this prime minister. If you haven’t he couldn’t care less," he cried. It was a reminder of how sharp the dividing lines will be at this election and a demonstration of Labour's belief that its best hope lies in framing the Tories as the friends of the rich and themselves as the friends of the poor. It is a strategy antithetical to that of New Labour, which sought partnership, rather than confrontation, with the elite. But defying the dissenters within and without of his party, it is one that Miliband has doubled-down on. Should he achieve victory on these terms, decades-long assumptions about the "centre ground" of British politics will be blown apart.   

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