Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Monday will be the day that defines this government (Guardian)

Those on low incomes, after all the vicious talk dismissing them as cheats and idlers, will be hit by an avalanche of cuts, writes Polly Toynbee.

2. Even now, after all that's happened to Cyprus, they’re queuing up to join the euro (Daily Telegraph)

It defies belief that Poland and others are still keen on joining the economic doomsday machine of the single currency, says Jeremy Warner.

3. Abu Qatada: the law won (Guardian)

The judges who ruled against the Home Office aren't woolly liberals, says Conor Gearty. They're just doing their job.

4. Let schools make money and we will all profit (Times)

Turn teachers into entrepreneurs and we will get the cash for the places we so badly need, says Philip Collins.

5. It’s the cold, not global warming, that we should be worried about (Daily Telegraph)

No one seems upset that in modern Britain, old people are freezing to death as hidden taxes make fuel more expensive, writes Fraser Nelson.

6. Burma in 2013 reminds me of Yugoslavia in 1991 (Independent)

Nobody thought civil war could break out then - and the same view holds strong in Burma now, writes Peter Popham. But violence this week may not be the end of it.

7. Britain can’t afford this level of immigration (Daily Telegraph)

The coalition is making headway in tackling large-scale immigration, but it needs to do far more, argue Frank Field and Nicholas Soames.

8. Cameron must listen to the Tory grassroots to stay on top (Daily Mail)

The Prime Minister's decision to appoint right-winger John Hayes to the Cabinet Office is an encouraging one, says a Daily Mail leader.

9. Europe risks going too far on moral hazard (Financial Times)

Systemic risk now poses a greater threat to lenders, says Nicolas Véron.

10. Another tug at Britain’s unravelling energy plan (Independent)

Three energy ministers in only seven months does not inspire investor confidence, says an Independent editorial.

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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