Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

Maureen Dowd argues in the New York Times that the Clintons' renewed rivalry and the increasingly visceral attacks on Barack Obama's health-care plan prove that the president can't transcend old divisions.

The postpartisan, postracial, post-Clinton-dysfunction world that Barack Obama was supposed to usher in when he hit town on his white charger, with turtle doves tweeting, has vanished.

In the Times, Roy Hattersley recalls the day he signed the order that was to keep troops in Northern Ireland for 35 years.

It was almost 20 years later that I first met Gerry Adams ... We got on famously until he expressed his regret at the animosity that he was shown by Northern Ireland Protestants. Even when I asked him how he expected them to react to photographs of him carrying the coffin of an IRA bomber who (in a mixture of evil and incompetence) had killed two children, he calmly replied that it was his duty to pay respects to a "dead volunteer". Only after I said that too many Irishmen were obsessed by death did I fear that he was going to have me shot.

Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Sunny Hundal exposes the Conservatives who want to privatise the NHS.

This sort of wing-nuttery has become mainstream within the Conservative party here. Why doesn't Cameron say anything about it? Why don't the media hold him to account for his own people's views.

The Guardian's Seumas Milne argues that the failure of the US government to suspend military and economic aid to the Honduran coup leaders proves that Latin American radicals can't rely on Obama for support.

It's clear that the Obama administration could pull the plug on the coup regime tomorrow by suspending military aid and imposing sanctions. But so far, despite public condemnations, the president has yet to withdraw the US ambassador, let alone block the coup leaders' visas or freeze their accounts, as Zelaya has requested.

Adrian Hamilton argues in the Independent that the failure of sanctions to deliver political change in Sudan, North Korea and Zimbabwe demonstrates why the west shouldn't impose new constraints on Burma.

You would be hard put to find any evidence that they've done anything to change policy in those countries. If anything you could argue that they've actually retrenched repressive regimes by enabling them to tighten control of import revenues and present themselves to their people as victims of international aggression.

 

 

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

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 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war