The Weather Project by Olafur Eliasson, at the Tate Modern. Photo: Getty
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Here's why London should bid to be the next City of Culture

London is home to the biggest galleries, the most famous museums and some of the country's most famous cultural destinations. But in outer London, many venues are struggling and deserve a moment to shine.

London should bid to be Britain’s next European City of Culture. It would help to promote the capital’s creative and cultural sectors and create new jobs in these areas; it could revitalise the arts and cultural offer outside of Zone One reeling from huge local government cuts; it could help to draw in the next generation of Londoners to a wide range of new cultural activity and, properly planned, it could be a year-long celebration of the best of Britain and the very best of London’s cultural scene.

Bidding will open at the beginning of 2017 for the honour of being the 2023 European City of Culture, due to take place in Britain. With elections galore between now and then it might be easy for the idea of a London bid to be quietly ignored. London after all is a top European city of culture already and this award is usually a consolation prize for cities in need of a little regeneration or so some have claimed.

Outside of Zone One where the National Theatre, the big museums and art galleries sit, Outer London’s museums, theatres and other cultural activity are under huge pressure as local government and Arts Council cutbacks have had a profound impact.

A European City of Culture bid backed by the big Zone One institutions could help to regenerate and expand Outer London’s arts scene, creating jobs and inspiring new art spaces and cultural ‘quarters’ from Hounslow to Dagenham and Sutton to Redbridge. Museums and theatres struggling in Outer London could be supported by the big Zone One institutions for a year of Zone 2 to Zone 6 cultural excitement. Given the success of the Tate St Ives or the Tate Liverpool, how about the Tate Croydon and the Tate Harrow; even for just one twelve month period.

Why do the great collections of modern and old Masters have to stay firmly within the Circle Line? Why not an Impressionist display in the Dulwich Picture Gallery or the National Opera and Ballet Rambert performing at the Fairkytes Centre in Hornchurch or the Kingston Rose Theatre. And for one year only why couldn’t we bring a bit of Glastonbury to London’s Outer London parks. Instead of a farmer’s field in Somerset, why couldn’t Kasabian, Dolly Parton or Ed Sheeran - last year’s Glastonbury headliners – perform in the great parks and open spaces of outer London – Hackney Marshes, West Ham Park or the green spaces of Epping Forest?

A City of Culture bid is an opportunity to provide a stage to London’s young and emerging artistic talent and to give younger Londoners a chance to access the best of arts and culture on their doorstep, and through their schools and colleges, instead of having to travel just into central London.

Inevitably the campaign against London will be that we don’t need such status and that other cities need it more. London is one of Europe’s top (if not already better than Paris and Rome) cultural destinations, but City of Culture status would help to draw in more tourists to Britain’s wider cultural and arts scene – starting in London but venturing out beyond the capital.

70,000 jobs depend on London’s creative and arts scene. With increasing automation, this sector offers one source of more decent jobs in the future. Putting business and job creation at the heart of any bid ought to be part to be part of the next Mayor’s vision for a European City of Culture bid.

European City of Culture status also offers a platform for co-operation with emerging economies and a further opportunity to promote London and, from there the rest of the UK, to the India’s and China’s, the Brazil’s and South Africa’s.

I have discussed the idea that London should bid with a diverse mix of London’s art and business figures; from Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum to Courtney Pine, Britain’s premier jazz talent and Digby Jones, former Director General of the CBI and Trade Minister. All think the idea of a bid has real merit.

It is for the next Mayor of London to bring London’s great and good together and shape a vision for a City of Culture bid whilst beginning to look for the individual figurehead to lead the necessary London Culture Company.

London cannot rest on its laurels. The Olympics gave London a global stage to perform on but they are now firmly in the past. The world has moved on and London’s leadership needs to look to the future. European City of Culture status offers a further platform to boost London’s economic, social and cultural opportunities. It’s a chance to put Outer London in the artistic spotlight, and to give the next generation of Londoners a huge chance to enjoy the richest range of art and culture.

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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