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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The gap widens between the right and reality (Times)

The left recognises growing inequality and ludicrously high executive pay, writes Philip Collins. Capitalists, on the other hand, are in denial.

2. Low-rent Labour is positioning itself as the Ukip of the left (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Miliband is banking on a populist wave sweeping him all the way to Downing Street, says Fraser Nelson. 

3. Vince Cable poses as the scourge of City spivs. But he blundered into handing them millions of your money (Daily Mail)

The loss to the Exchequer as a result of the mispricing of Royal Mail is scandalous at a time of national austerity, says Alex Brummer. 

4. Scrap inheritance tax and leave the dead to rest in peace (Guardian)

To reduce our soaring inequality we must treat inherited wealth like ordinary taxed income and end all the wheezes, writes Polly Toynbee. 

5. The mission that is Blair’s dismal last act (Financial Times)

His arguments have been lost to the lust for personal riches and attention, writes Philip Stephens.

6. When the pressure’s on, by-elections get delirious and dirty (Daily Telegraph)

The souped-up campaigning promises to make the fight for the vacant Westminster seat both shambolic and amusing, writes Isabel Hardman. 

7. Northern Ireland: power of the past (Guardian)

Everything connected with the Troubles is politicised – and the future of the McConville investigation will not be a simple matter, says a Guardian editorial.

8. Japan should resist right-wingers who discount the country's war crimes (Independent)

Shinzo Abe’s revisionist government would like to take back an apology over "comfort women", writes Peter Popham. 

9. Schools are held hostage by politicians' control-freakery (Guardian)

Local authorities are effective guarantors of educational standards, writes Simon Jenkins. Gove, Hunt and Blunkett need to get out of the way.

10. Despite those 14 questions, I admire Jeremy Paxman (Times)

...but the BBC’s grand inquisitor didn’t always get the better of me, says Michael Howard. 

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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