Morning Call: pick of the papers

Ten must-read pieces from this mornings papers.

1. Leveson report: This could spark a new Lib-Lab alliance (Sunday Telegraph)

Matthew D'Ancona sees a new strategic landscape emerging in different party leaders' responses to the idea legislation for press regulation.

2. Cameron discovers a principle as he fights for a free press (Independent on Sunday)

It was a mistake to launch an inquiry in the first place, says John Rentoul, but at least the Prime Minister looks like he believes in something now.

3. George revs up for a fuel duty freeze (Mail on Sunday)

James Forsyth is well briefed ahead of the Chancellor's Autumn Statement next week.

4. With politicians in deadlock, the ball bounces back to the press (Observer)

Andrew Rawnsley probes coalition divisions over Leveson and notes that the public are not minded to cut journalists much slack.

5. Only a free press is democratic (Independent on Sunday)

Leading article rejects state regulation, offers to get last round in last chance saloon.

6. The press must respond in a robust and reasoned manner (Observer)

Leading article takes issue with some of the detail of the Leveson report, recognises the thrust but stops short of accepting the need for legislation. 

7. America's carbon tax offers a lesson to the rest of the planet (Observer)

Henry Porter notes encouraging signs that even conservatives in the US are waking up to the threat of climate change.

8. Ukip may yet gatecrash this private party (Sunday Telegraph)

Nigel Farage's party will storm the cosy corridors of power, says Janet Daley, who, readers might recall, confidently predicted Mitt Romney would win the US election in similar terms.

9. Here endeth the PM's second lesson (Sunday Times)

Martin Ivens cannot resist joining the chorus of columnists celebrating Cameron's decision to oppose statutory press regulation.

10. We have travelled back to 1942. 70 years ago we had soup kitchens, now we have food banks. (Sunday Mirror)

Tristram Hunt marks the 70th anniversary of the Beveridge report.

  

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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