On Labour Uncut, the Milibands and Diane Abbott

Yes DM may well win. But to say he "has won" may not help him

I have a strict policy of not responding to personalised blog stuff on the web. But given that I am such a fan of Labour Uncut, and given that it is so widely read in serious Labour circles, I have to respond to a passing reference in Dan Hodges's flowery piece today claiming I have argued that "Diane Abbott would prevail" in the Labour leadership contest. As it happens, I have long known that one of the Miliband brothers would be the next Labour leader, and was I think the first journalist to tip Ed Miliband as Gordon Brown's successor back in 2008 when the younger brother was barely on the leadership radar. Conversely, since the idea of Ed Miliband being next leader has become more conventional, I have been more torn about which brother will win, and repeatedly recorded David Miliband's successes in the campaign (incidentally all of this is different from who "should" win).

Now, it is true that I reported relatively early that Abbott looked like she would make the ballot paper, and then wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog reporting a Labour source explaining how she could win like Harriet Harman won the deputy leadership contest from the outside in 2007. Qualifying the blog with the headline "don't laugh", I concluded: "So, will Diane Abbott be the Harriet Harman of 2010? In reality, almost certainly not. But do not underestimate the unpredictability of this contest."

For the record, I do not think and never have thought that Abbott can or will win this contest. But there is -- still -- "unpredictability" over which of the Milibands will win. Which is why it is mildly odd that Hodges's piece, more importantly, is all about how David Miliband has already won. Nor, I suspect, is it particularly helpful to, er, David Miliband.

PS: Talking of LabourUncut, there was another interesting piece on there yesterday, this time by the new Labour MP Michael Dugher about the need for a move away from top-down leadership of the party. In it, Dugher wrote:

[The] new leader will not have the mandate - whoever wins - that either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown had. This has been a contest, not a coronation, and the outcome is likely to be very close.

I thought I'd mis-read this and my eyes had invented the "not" in the first bit of the sentence. Dugher is a very smart and rather wise guy, but surely the point about this new leader is that he will have a mandate that Brown -- and to an extent Blair -- lacked, as this is the first real contest since Michael Foot became leader in 1980. If David Miliband wins, he will be all the more powerful for having seen off a ruthless bid by the Ed Miliband team to beat him. If Ed Miliband wins, sources close to him say he will have the "mandate" to implement a leadership to the left of New Labour, contrary to the conventional view that he will bring his party back to the centre.

PPS: Look out for my tips for some unexpected names in the shadow cabinet, and some ones to watch along with a lengthy Harriet Harman interview in this week's magazine.

UPDATE: For the record, when I say that Ed Miliband may not lurch to the right if he wins, I am very much not buying into the "Red Ed" nonsense about him being a mad Trot who could never win an election.

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