David Cameron addresses the UK border force. Photo:Getty Images.
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The question that Labour's leadership hopefuls must answer: how to win the European referendum

My appeal today to the candidates at Westminster is to stop just telling us you want a referendum, and to start telling us how you're going to win it.

On a day when the media is dominated by so-called "demands" David Cameron is presenting to the European Summit, once again the British public is seeing the political agenda on Europe set by the Tories and UKIP, one whose narrative is firmly Eurosceptic.

Labour MEPs pursue European reform each and every day and Labour has our own clear set of proposals for reform which can and should be developed further in the new political context.

Indeed if David Cameron is telling the truth that his objective is Britain's national interest and not just that of his own party, he should take care to include Labour in the EU reform debate - in Westminster and in Brussels.

And whilst offering no blank cheques, Labour should be ready to play our own constructive part.

Yet the potential leadership and deputy leadership candidates have had very little to say so far about the Europe issue.

The one response which seems to have become de rigeur  for the contenders is that Labour must now support the holding of the EU referendum.

But with a Tory majority in Westminster, they have to show more ambition than opening or closing the stable door after that particular horse has already bolted.

There will be a referendum, that's now the settled will.

So if all the Labour candidates do is now to support the referendum as a process rather than taking on the argument about Europe as an issue, this risks becoming yet another "dog whistle" on the unspoken false assumption that Euroscepticism wins votes.

As research repeatedly demonstrates, not only are Labour members and voters firmly pro-European in a way which is not always acknowledged in Westminster, but there is scant evidence whilst Eurosceptics may have succeeded in setting the terms of public debate, that this has had any real impact on how people actually vote.

That is not to be complacent about the outcome of the EU referendum which may come as soon as next May, on which our party's new leadership will have to hit the ground running as soon as their own election is completed.

The historic damage to our country and its place in the world if the result goes the wrong way, means it is unthinkable for Labour to do anything else.

But my appeal today to the candidates at Westminster is to stop just telling us you want a referendum, and to start telling us how you're going to win it.

And that won't just be about technical amendments to European legislation and institutional processes, important as these are.

Labour Euro MPs will be ready to engage with you on these - it's our job to do so.

Instead, if winning the leadership for our whole party is about proving vision and mettle, being prepared to go to the 'dark places' where Labour needs to do more, then Europe should be an issue in your campaign now.

Show the membership and the country you can and will win the hearts and minds of the British people on Europe, firmly challenge the Eurosceptic agenda and set a different Labour narrative. 

The next Labour leader has to show how he or she will play a decisive role in winning the referendum because the country of which he or she aspires to be Prime Minister, is one you and we want to be confidently engaged as an active and influential European member state.

I could have written this article putting my own humble contribution to the debate on how this might be achieved, but instead I am asking the future leadership of our party to do so themselves.

We have to show that whilst David Cameron is content to whistling for a European dog which he sees as running wild in British politics, we are walking ahead, have it under control with the lead firmly in our hands. 

Richard Howitt MEP is Labour Member of the European Parliament for the East of England and Chairman of the European Parliamentary Labour Party. He tweets @richardhowitt.

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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