Boris rolls out the same old tricks

The London mayor’s campaign against Ken Livingstone is nothing we haven’t seen before.

It's over three years since Boris Johnson first ran against Ken Livingstone for Mayor of London, but his new attack website suggests that almost nothing has changed in his approach to fighting the former mayor.

His old criticisms of Ken from 2008 are not so much trotted out as dragged out, nobbled and lifeless, on to the race course.

Livingstone's support for the unions, controversial left-wing politicians and Islam are all limped out, with multiple links to posts by Andrew Gilligan completing the Wadley-era Evening Standard feel.

To the surprise of approximately zero Londoners, we are told that Ken is a fan of Hugo Chávez, various Muslim leaders and the occasional junket. Who knew?

In fact, give or take a couple of references to Press TV and the fascinating subject of internal Labour Party politics in Tower Hamlets, the entire website could have been written back in 2008.

In this alternate universe, the past three years have never happened. And so, while Ken is attacked for his large numbers of press officers and his huge pay-offs to "cronies", Boris's large numbers of press officers and his huge pay-off to one of his own "cronies" fall down the memory hole.

Because the truth is that, while Boris campaigned against Livingstone's formula for being Mayor of London, it is a formula to which, by and large, he has kept.

So, Ken's international embassies, or "Kenbassies", as the Tories called them, have largely stayed, as have the travel concessions for young people that the Tories deemed so unacceptable just a few years ago.

Ken's staged battles with his own party leadership have been replaced with Boris's staged battles with Tory chiefs. And Ken's outrageous jokes and comments about totalitarian leaders have been replaced with Boris's outrageous jokes and comments about other totalitarian leaders.

Thus, in some ways, the antiquated feel of Boris's campaign website is entirely in keeping with the antiquated feel of Boris's mayoralty. Where Ken led, Boris has largely followed. And after almost three years, Boris has failed to point London in any discernibly new direction.

In the absence of such a new direction, no volume of attack websites will convince anybody that four more years of either candidate is anything to get too scared about.

Adam Bienkov is a blogger and journalist covering London politics and the mayoralty.

Adam Bienkov is a blogger and journalist covering London politics and the Mayoralty. He blogs mostly at AdamBienkov.com

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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