The Blair book

A few titbits from “A Journey” that you may not have read.

Since the publication of extracts from Tony Blair's A Journey on the book's website last night, a number have been reproduced in the media, mainly as "world exclusives".

We have confirmation of the now 15-year-old story that Blair and Gordon Brown largely did not get on in government, and some more substantial sections on Iraq -- see Mehdi Hasan's forensic overnight blog -- and Northern Ireland. They are all over the place. So I thought I'd reproduce a few bits -- in no order -- that you may not yet have seen from the wider book.

  • David Miliband went to see TB in May 2007 to ask whether he should run against GB for the Labour leadership and post of prime minister. DM was uncertain, more so than Blair, that he could win. "I think you might win, not obviously but very possibly," TB told DM. He writes: "Played correctly, it would put full square the choice of New Labour or not." Is that the choice between the Miliband brothers today?
  • Blair accuses Brown of having "tied up" the support of "Murdoch and Dacre" in 2007.
  • Blair exonerates Ed Miliband and Ed Miliband alone among the GB circle when it comes to plotting against TB.
  • He accuses Ed Balls of being the Brownite plotter-in-chief.
  • Blair thought John Prescott's punch in 2001 against a countryside protester was "extraordinarily funny. The egg was funny. The mullet was funny. The left hook was funny. The expression on both their faces was funny."
  • Blair calls Alastair Campbell a "genius".
  • He says he talked to Campbell about what to say on Diana's death, but stops short of attributing the phrase "people's Princess" to him.
  • He heaps praise on Douglas Alexander and laments that Brown sucked him into his circle of insiders.
  • Blair admits he "deeply regretted" Peter Mandelson's second resignation, but denies that Campbell pushed him into it, saying "it was my decision".
  • He says the 11 September 2001 atrocities were carried out by "fanatics" who were not representative of Islam, and says that, had he known that ten years later the UK would still be in a war in Afghanistan, he would have been "profoundly alarmed".
  • Blair grabbed his friend Charlie Falconer by the lapels over allowing media editors to queue with "ordinary members of the public" on the Tube for the Dome. "'What? What? What the hell are the media doing there? You didn't, no, please, please, dear God, please tell me you didn't have the media coming here by Tube from Stratford, just like ordinary members of the public.' 'Well, we thought it would be more democratic that way.' 'Democratic? What fool thought that? They're the media, for Christ's sake. They write about the people. They don't want to be treated like them.' 'Well what did you want us to do,' Charlie said, feeling he should be fighting his corner a little, 'get them all a stretch limo?' 'Yes, Charlie,' I thundered, 'with a boy or girl of their choice and as much champagne as they can drink; or at least have got them riding in the Tube with us.' I am ashamed to say I then shouted and bawled at him for a bit longer, while the more sensible of our party tried to find out what to do."
James Macintyre is political correspondent for 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