Andy Burnham at the Labour leadership hustings. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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Burnham's cloth ears, commons bench wars, and the Durham Miner's Gala

Asked if the cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry could join the fun, the DMA’s general secretary, Dave Hopper, replied: “We’ve got nee problem with him. It’s the Labour f***ers we never see that I object to.”

To the 131st Durham Miners’ Gala, where Labour leadership wannabes jostled for attention amid the brass bands and banners. The lefty Jeremy Corbyn delivered a fiery speech from the main platform and Tom Watson waved to the parade from the balcony of the Hotel Royal County. The pair have been nominated for leader and deputy by the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA).

Asked if the cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry could join the fun, the DMA’s general secretary, Dave Hopper, replied: “We’ve got nee problem with him. It’s the Labour f***ers we never see that I object to.” Cue the arrival of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, to pose for photographs in the crowd.

Brooks Newmark, who resigned first as a minister and then as an MP over a newspaper report about a peep shot of the inside of his Paisley pyjamas, isn’t the only Tory who exposes himself to danger. An eminent author of historical fiction whispered to your correspondent that a horrified lady friend had shown her a private picture sent unsolicited by a Conservative member, captioned: “Look what you’re missing.” The MP felt, wrongly, that the bloated organ would impress the target of his desires. Instead, he is a figure of fun. Would the dishonourable member like to out himself?

Praises for the SNP 56 are secretly being sung by Tories. A cabinet minister informs me that the Nats are chummy with Conservatives in the privacy of the tearoom. I suspect the SNP doesn’t shout about that in Scotland. The minister observed: “I’m surprised how friendly the SNP [is] with us. Then again . . . we both hate Labour.”

Fresh details emerge of the declaration of Westminster that has ended the bench wars in the Commons chamber between the SNP and Labour. The deal is that Labour is guaranteed four of the nine places that may be reserved by prayer cards in brass name-holders, including Dennis Skinner’s corner slot, with the Nats allocated the other five. Everybody budges up to squeeze in a fifth Labour bottom (to ensure parity of numbers). If only the two parties got on so well in Scotland – or the tearoom.

At Labour hustings, the deputy “undercard” is more entertaining than the main event. Digs by Rupert Murdoch’s nemesis Tom Watson at candidates courting the Sun King included a pop at Caroline Flint. When Watson lamented the absence of Chuka Umunna or Rushanara Ali on all-white panels, she was overheard muttering, “I bet you stitched them up.”

Cloth ears, it seems, were to blame for Andy Burnham’s claim at hustings that petrol costs “160p” a litre. Mary Creagh, sitting alongside him, had muttered that it was £1.16 but Burnham misheard. If ever a favour backfired . . . 

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

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 16 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Motherhood Trap

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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