Shadow health minister Liz Kendall during the party's NHS week in the election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Five things we learned from Liz Kendall at the Press Gallery

Labour leadership candidate backs the 2 per cent defence spending target and free schools. 

Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall, one of three likely to make the ballot (the others being Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper), appeared before a Parliamentary Press Gallery lunch this afternoon, feeding the hacks plenty of newslines. Here are the five main ones. 

She backs the 2 per cent defence spending target

The Tories have repeatedly refused to pledge to meet the Nato target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence (despite David Cameron urging other member states to do so). But Kendall today declared her support for the commitment. "Under this government we have seen a quiet diminishing of Britain's role in the world, which we did too little to challenge because we were paralysed by the past," the shadow health minister said. "Under my leadership, Labour will no longer stand by while the Prime Minister weakens our country and allows the world to become less secure. That means insisting the UK maintains our basic Nato commitment to continue spending 2 per cent on defence. As leader of the opposition I will hold David Cameron to account for Britain's promise to our allies and I will oppose him if he breaks it." 

But while her stance allows Labour to outflank the Tories in a novel area, it will make it harder for her to achieve fiscal credibility unless she outlines how the expensive pledge would be paid for. 

She supports free schools

Labour went into the election opposing the establishment of free schools in areas with surplus places - a stance that Burnham has promised to maintain. But Kendall declared that she would support institutions of all kinds provided that they were "providing a great education".  

"As leader, I'm not going to waste time obsessing about school structures. If a school is providing a great education, whether it's a local authority, academy or free school, we will back it. What's more, if someone wants to help run their school, they deserve credit, not criticism." 

Kendall's stance is designed to show that Labour is open to public service reform (one of her greatest political passions) and takes a non-ideological approach to education. But it will not help her cause among the trade union members and party activists she will need the support of to win the leadership (the majority of whom are opposed to free schools). 

She would not cut tuition fees and instead focus on early years 

One of Labour's signature election pledges was to reduce university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000. But Kendall disowned this policy, instead promising to focus on early years education. 

"When kids in my constituency start school 15 months behind where they should be in terms of their development and 20 months behind in some areas, they play catch-up for the rest of ther lives. They struggle to even get basic GCSEs, let alone have a chance of going to college, university or getting a job. That's why children's early years will be my priority as leader, not cutting university tuition fees."

She expected the Tories to win the most seats 

Asked by NS editor Jason Cowley why she and her shadow cabinet colleagues failed to remove Miliband if they believed his approach was failing, Kendall replied: "You don't know what goes on behind closed doors and the conversations people have. But he was elected leader, he deserved our loyalty and support. He took the decisions and we backed that because that's what happens when you elect a leader, I believe in collective responsibility. 

Kendall did admit, though, that she expected the Tories "to get most seats" at the election, recalling that "When you have so many undecided voters in our key marginals, you know something is fundamentally wrong. Because it's either that our Labour party members aren't canvassing properly, which isn't the case because they're fantastic, it's because people aren't telling you the truth: either they're going Tory or they're going to vote Ukip. I thought they'd get the most seats but I didn't predict the scale of it.

She is open to the Labour leader facing re-election  

Asked by the Spectator's Isabel Hardman whether she supported the next leader submitting themselves to re-election before the next election (as proposed by Labour peer Jan Royall), Kendall made it clear that she was open to the idea. 

"I think the idea that people are asked to make sure that you're up the job that you're doing is an interesting one, actually, those three years or whatever. We have to do it as MPs, I think it's an interesting idea." Asked whether she wouldn't object to a second leadership contest, she replied: "If people think you're not up the job, then yes." 

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Now listen to George discussing the Labour leadership contest on the NS podcast:

 

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