Rolf Harris was convicted of 12 counts of assault. Photo: Getty
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The fall of Rolf Harris, strange police names and the delights of unfashionable Essex

Will Daily Mail columnists now end their campaign of denigration against Operation Yewtree?

Now that Operation Yewtree has secured the convictions of Rolf Harris and Max Clifford and brought belated justice for their victims, will Daily Mail columnists end their campaign of denigration against it? Peter McKay, one of two Mail writers who is said to echo most faithfully the views of the editor, Paul Dacre, wrote in December 2012: “The sexual abuse of underage girls should never be ignored . . . [but] quizzing elderly celebrities about past, alleged sexual misbehaviour is a lot more congenial than cornering armed thugs in back alleys.”

A month later, another of the paper’s columnists, Richard Littlejohn, mocked the dawn raids, ransacking of homes and removal of evidence and asked if the police seriously expected to find evidence of long-ago sexual assaults “tucked away in a sock drawer”. He was writing about the arrest of the comedian Jim Davidson, who was later released without charge. But, yes, by then, a victim’s letter had already been found in Clifford’s bedside drawer, calling him “a grade-A paedophile”.

 

Call it anything

The police used to give their investigations names such as Operation Swooping Eagle. Now, they prefer Operation Yewtree, Tuleta, Elveden, Kalmyk, Weeting, and so on. Elveden and Weeting are East Anglian villages; Tuleta is somewhere in Texas; the Kalmyk people are inhabitants of one of those Russian republics you’ve never heard of; Yewtree is, well, just a tree.

How do the police choose these names? Perhaps they want to seem less aggressive and now have officers, many of them graduates, who are sufficiently erudite to provide suitable suggestions.

 

A break from the past

David Cameron is right to oppose Jean-Claude Juncker becoming head of the European Commission but not for the reasons usually given. Juncker was prime minister of Luxembourg for 18 years up to December 2013 and, for six years before that, finance minister. If anyone is to blame for his country’s provision of a haven that allows Vodafone, Amazon, Apple and others to avoid UK taxes legally, it’s him. In an index compiled by the Tax Justice Network, Luxembourg ranks second in the world, just below Switzerland, for financial secrecy. Last year, it failed an OECD review of regulatory standards, along with the Seychelles, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands.

The tax regime wasn’t entirely Juncker’s doing: for example, an arcane tax break that allows companies to offset notional losses in asset values against profits dates back to the Second World War. But he did nothing to change it and obstructed EU efforts to tighten regulation. When he was ousted as premier last year, the Financial Times repor­ted “mild panic” among bankers.

In the thousands of words said and written about Juncker in recent days, including many about his alcohol consumption, we heard almost nothing of these matters.

 

Reputation rescue

For at least 30 years, many lefties have boycotted the Switzerland-based Nestlé because of its “aggressive marketing” of breast-milk substitutes, particularly in developing countries. I’m not much of a boycotter – so many companies are involved in selling rubbish food that I see no point in singling one of them out – but it’s firmly fixed in my head that Nestlé is a bad thing.

Now it is being praised, by the Archbishop of York among others, because its UK arm has signed up to paying the living wage. Should we look on it more kindly? Its 8,000 UK employees already receive at least the living wage but, from December 2017, its contractors (who presumably provide many of the low-grade workers) will also be required to do so. As this involves just 800 people and, I would guess, a trivial increase in what contractors charge, it sounds a small price for rescuing the reputation of a corporation making over £6bn in annual profits.

 

Essex appeal

The longer I live in Essex, the more I am struck by the delights of its scruffier corners. Last month, my wife and I went to Heybridge Basin, where a sea lock was dug out of marshland in 1796 to allow vessels to join a 13-mile canal linking the Black­water Estuary to Chelmsford. Here, you can row or cruise down the canal, sail in the estuary, walk the sea wall for miles in either direction, watch birds or just gaze from one of two pubs (the one we tried served excellent plaice and chips). The village is undeveloped commercially, unprettified and entirely unpretentious. It is impossible to imagine David Cameron or Lord Mandelson, or any other of your least favourite people, ever visiting. Essex has too many Union Jacks and Ukip supporters but it also remains wonderfully unfashionable. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 02 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, After God Again

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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