Is it a marathon, a sprint or jogging on the spot, Ed?

The Labour leader's strategy relies on voters one day realising that he was right all along. Then re

The Labour leader's strategy relies on voters one day realising that he was right all along. Then rewarding him for it.{C}

The Financial Times has an interview with Ed Miliband this morning, revealing in that it shows the Labour leader unperturbed by his party's apparent failure to break through in opinion polls and confident that voters are swinging in his general direction.

In fact, he tells the FT opinion is "moving significantly towards us" and cites as evidence the fact that David Cameron has had to imitate some of Labour's language about responsibility at the top of society and excessive corporate pay.

Meanwhile, the Labour leader continues to express certainty that, eventually, voters will see that the coalition's economic plans have unravelled and start listening more to the opposition.

I think 2011 was the year when the economic argument has shifted. The government's economic strategy has fallen apart in my view.

Well yes, that is his view and he soldiers on in dogged determination to bring the country round to sharing it. The problem is that Miliband has yet to demonstrate that he has any effective techniques for mass persuasion. By his own admission, Cameron is prepared to ape Labour's potentially popular banker-bashing postures and there is a peculiar complacency in thinking that voters care who said something first. Miliband's strategy seems to be based on an assumption that you can build a wonderful edifice of analytical truth about the failings of the current system and critiques of the incumbent government, so it is all ready to be admired when the electorate deigns to pay attention. I can't think of an example of this approach - build it and they'll come - working in recent political history.

Of course, Labour can take some comfort from the party's fairly easy win in yesterday's by election in Feltham and Heston. I doubt that will stop the frustrated murmuring that is getting louder on the opposition benches. The party's strategic dilemma, or rather its confusion, is neatly encapsulated in one especially odd line from the Miliband interview today:

I always said it would be a long journey to be just a one-term opposition.

Surely if the ambition is to be in opposition for just one term, the journey is, by definition, relatively short. You can just about see his point - there is a lot of work to do in a short space of time. But at the moment it feels as if Labour hasn't decided whether it is running a marathon or a sprint - or maybe just jogging on the spot.

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

Getty Images
Show Hide image

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