Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Cameron is trashing his own party, and it’s not a pretty sight (Daily Telegraph)

Gay marriage is an admirable cause, but if Conservative membership keeps falling at this rate, we will soon enter a new political era, says Peter Oborne.

2. Stafford Hospital, NHS managers, and why money rather than reform sometimes really is the answer (Independent)

A confused, simplistic and narrow debate about the true meaning of NHS reform has been exposed by the appalling neglect of patients in this exceptional case, writes Steve Richards.

3. The five questions Carney must answer (Financial Times)

The next BoE governor must live up to his rock star billing, says Chris Giles.

4. 'No more Mid Staffs' sounds so simple. It will be anything but (Guardian)

The parties were unified but we know that reform in the NHS, though massively necessary, has defeated many politicians, writes Martin Kettle.

5. It isn't those who oppose gay marriage who are the bigots - it is the liberals who demonise them (Daily Mail)

It marks a watershed in modern Britain when the leader of the party to which instinctively conservative people might be expected to look champions social revolution, says Stephen Glover.

6. Why the Tories need a meritocrat's manifesto (Guardian)

Fairness has traditionally been seen as a Labour preserve. But we can find a better way to reach the aspirational underdog, says Dominic Raab.

7. Confused of Westminster seeks a big idea (Times) (£)

Fractious Tories fight their leader and each other, while docile Labour is devoid of a plan, writes David Aaronovitch. The old politics is dying.

8. Turkey and the Kurds: progress on the horizon (Guardian)

If a Kurdish spring happens, the rewards for both sides are significant – not just the end of a conflict that has claimed 40,000 lives, says a Guardian editorial. 

9. Leveson and the Lords (Daily Telegraph)

The Defamation Bill is being used as a backdoor means of introducing state regulation of the press, says a Telegraph leader.

10. Rating agencies must beware of the law (Financial Times)

Free speech is no defence if standards are lowered to please issuers and gain revenues, writes John Gapper.

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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