Laying the archbishop

Congratulations to Anglicans worldwide, you have a new Archbishop of Canterbury. Justin Welby, who gets promoted from Archbishop of Durham, is an Eton-educated former oil executive, which means that in the UK the Government, the Capital and the Church are now run by old Etonians. Hands up who’s read any Gramsci?

I was struck by the BBC’s reporting of the story. On the main Radio 4 News, the second line was that bookmakers had stopped taking bets earlier this week on the outcome. We shouldn’t be surprised that bookies will give odds on the new head of the Church of England – you can pretty much bet on anything down your local William Hill these days. The Bible does not prohibit gambling, though until not so long ago conventional Christian thinking was to discourage it.

But when did betting become such a part of the fabric of British society that that the BBC doesn’t feel it odd to talk about what Betfair might think about the See of Canterbury?  Did the four knights lay a bet before setting out to confront Thomas a Becket? Did Thomas Cranmer see his betting slips go up in smoke on the pyre at his martyrdom? The Church has been choosing bishops for over a thousand years without the outcome getting the “4:40 at Haydock” treatment.

The media seems to be in thrall to bookies. Check how often odds on an event are mentioned  in the media – from the US election to the winner of X Factor. Broadcasters feel happy to use analysts from spread betting firms as experts in the financial markets.

This is because the gambling firms rightly see media appearances as key elements of their marketing and work hard to get their spokespeople quoted.

Is it lazy by the media? Yes. Is it healthy? Not sure. Will it change? I wouldn’t bet on it.

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