There is a division between Labour's priorities in Westminster and Scotland. Photo: Getty
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Labour pains: Scotland's heading left while London's heading right

Branch office politics.

Ed Miliband’s move to cut his “One Nation” slogan from his recent party conference speech seems a prescient move. After all, we aren’t one nation in any meaningful sense. The disintegrative effects of devolution mean different parts of the UK are increasingly looking to find local solutions to local problems and to meet local desires.

It’s a reality being played out right now in the Labour party itself. As the race begins to find a new leader for the party in Scotland, it is clear that the political landscape north of the border is now forever changed following the independence referendum.

Indeed, a poll for The Herald yesterday found that 66 per cent of Scots want another referendum on independence within a decade. Meanwhile, the latest opinion polls in Scotland make grim reading for the Labour, training a resurgent SNP by 29 points, following the resignation of Scottish party leader Johann Lamont.

The answer, according to many in the party, is for Labour to define itself to the left of the SNP. Already, the train drivers’ union Aslef has come out for the left-wing challenger to succeed Lamont, Neil Findlay. Others are expected to follow.

But while it looks like Labour in Scotland is heading left, the party in London is moving right.

Tessa Jowell and Margaret Hodge – both possible contenders for Labour’s nomination for London mayor – have been quick to complain about Ed Balls’ proposed mansion tax.

Granted, it’s effectively a “London mansion tax” given the clustering of properties worth over £2m in the capital, but is it conceivable that a Labour London Mayor would not seek to be as redistributive as the party at large?

To be fair, they are not alone in expressing doubts. Other Labour MPs and local authorities have made criticisms about the operation of a tax on valuable property, pointing out people can be asset rich but cash poor. However, the subliminal message seems to be that the move risks positioning Labour as anti-aspirational. But if a social democratic party doesn’t tax unearned wealth to fund the NHS, how does it raise revenue fairly in straitened times?

Given the next election for London mayor takes place on the same day as elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 2016, could we see a Scottish Labour campaign calling for tax increases for higher earners, while a London campaign soft-pedals on millionaires?

This is the real “new politics”. In our fragmenting system, it looks like the main parties will need distinct approaches and offers in different parts of the UK for different audiences. Not in a duplicitous way, but merely to reflect the fact they are effectively becoming local franchises.

In his history of the Labour party, ‘Speak for Britain!’ the historian Martin Pugh points out that the early party was itself a collection of distinct regional and national groupings:

The tactics that worked in Lancashire were less relevant in County Durham; Labour was not the same party in London as it was in Yorkshire; its advance in the West Midlands came later than in South Wales.

Johann Lamont’s complaint that the national Labour party has treated Scotland like a “branch office” was telling. Indeed, she may be about to have the last laugh as Tip O’Neill’s famous dictum that “all politics is local” increasingly becomes a defining characteristic of British politics.

After 25 years of top-down centralisation, what will the control freaks in Labour make of that?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office. 

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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