PMQs review: Cameron's Andrew Mitchell problem isn't over

The Chief Whip gave the saga new life by shouting that he "didn't" swear at the police.

It is a measure of how weak Andrew Mitchell's position is that David Cameron couldn't summon a word in defence of his Chief Whip at today's PMQs. Challenged by Ed Miliband to say whether Mitchell (who sat visibly trembling on the frontbench) used the words attributed to him by the police ("fucking plebs"), Cameron merely reiterated that the Chief Whip had apologised and that his apology had been accepted. He said nothing to suggest that Mitchell is secure in his post, simply stating that the government "will get on with the big issues". The Chief Whip didn't help matters by shouting "I didn't" when Miliband claimed that he swore at the police, inviting the press to again ask what he did say.

Miliband, who had earlier referenced Boris Johnson's call for those who swear at the police to be arrested, quipped: "It's a night in the cell for the yobs, it's a night at the Carlton Club for the Chief Whip". He later added: "They say that I practice class war and they go round calling people 'plebs'." But the Labour leader slipped up when he claimed that "everyone else is losing their jobs, the Chief Whip is keeping his". Given today's positive employment figures (which Miliband noted earlier in the session), it wasn't the best attack line to use and Cameron was swift to capitalise. "He wrote those questions yesterday before unemployment fell," the PM observed. Miliband also again falsely implied that all millionaires will benefit from the abolition of the 50p tax rate (he should have said those who earn £1m a year), a line that gives the media a licence to probe his own personal worth.

The session ended rowdily with Cameron baldly refusing to answer Labour MP Chris Bryant's question on why he had not released all of the text messages between himself and Rebekah Brooks. Cameron insisted that this was because Bryant had refused to apologise for previously quoting unpublished material from the Leveson inquiry (some of which had contained untrue claims about him), but it made him look like a man with something to hide.

Update: Tory vice chairman Michael Fabricant, who resigned as a government whip in last month's reshuffle, has taken to Twitter to confirm that Mitchell did intervene during PMQs to claim that he "didn't" swear at the police.

As I wrote above, this will only increase the pressure on Mitchell to finally reveal what he did say.

Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell arrives to attend the weekly cabinet meeting on Whitehall. Photograph: Getty Images.

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