Rich tea at half-time

One of the things that all genuine fans - which means fans who pay their own money for their own humble seats - dislike these days is the hospitality industry. In the west stand at Spurs, I go mad when these red-faced, braying oafs with hospitality suite badges hanging round their stupid necks push past to take their seats late, stinking of booze and food, with no idea where they are.

At Arsenal, I look across to the executive-box level, and ten minutes after half-time they are all empty, as the guests are still inside, getting pissed. It's the same at Wembley - acres of empty seats, waiting for corporate guests who wouldn't recognise Jamie Carragher if they met him in their porridge.

But last Saturday, I was in a private box at Arsenal and, naturally, I have changed my mind. What a fab way to watch a game - what fun, what comfort.

Before that, my first and only time in a private box was over 20 years ago. The new west stand at Spurs had opened and a friend took a box, which cost £13,000 a season and seated eight people. Obscene prices, I thought: it won't catch on.

I enjoyed the waitress service, as it is so boring having to pour one's drink and open one's own mouth, but we were stuck behind a glass panel. Good view of the pitch - but no noise. There was a knob you could turn to let in the sound of the vulgar fans outside. I thanked my friend but said the atmosphere was rubbish. I never got invited again.

At the Emirates, the boxes have seats outside on their own balcony, so you get the best of all worlds. According to the internet, prices range from £65,000 to £150,000 a season (gulp). The one I was in, owned by an Arab, seats 15. He wasn't there but I was invited by a close friend of his. Half the guests were his upper-class friends and contacts; the others - though I didn't get all their names - seemed to be chauffeurs, waiters, people on his staff he appeared to be treating.

A splendid meal was served an hour before the game, the drink flowed and, very soon, I was forgetting where I was and what I had come to see - especially when, five minutes before kick-off, all the blinds came down. One of the waiters explained that they do this in the boxes when the live TV cameras start panning round the ground. The sight of people stuffing their faces would obviously offend some poor people.

I managed to stagger outside just a few minutes after kick-off and the view was brilliant - yet it did feel like a private box, cut off from the hordes. I couldn't, however, see the top of the big screen, which I never seem able to see when I sit elsewhere: the only design fault in an otherwise brilliant stadium.

At half-time, my fellow guests went back inside to the booze and one asked: "I say, how long does half-time last?" In the second half, the rather aristocratic person beside me asked why the West Ham fans were singing "Bubbles" and shouting: "Come on, you Irons." Oh, God, I thought, if I start explaining, I'll be here till next week, but of course I did. At length. One likes to help the ignorant rich . . .

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 08 November 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Israel divided

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.