The Government’s policy on gambling is shameful. I was reared in what was once called the “respectable working class”. My hard-working parents were determined that I should make the best of the opportunities available. Idleness and shallow recreation were frowned upon. Gambling and drunkenness topped the list of proscription.
This was not a joyless existence. Fell-walking, sport, and visiting museums gave us many happy hours. What was abhorrent to my family, and to millions like them, was anything that smacked of being “common”. This was not snobbery. It was realistic to know that “the likes of us” had a long way to climb, and not very far to fall.
The Labour Movement was our guide in the ascent. My father and grandfathers owed their wide knowledge of literature, history, and politics to those institutions that were for so long the working man’s university: night classes, the trade unions, and the Mechanics’ Institute. Harold Wilson’s belief that “the Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing” summed up the ethos.
New Labour has betrayed that honourable tradition. Under Tony Blair, the Government has lost its moral compass, and is at the mercy of the winds of cultural fashion. Chav culture is the lifestyle of choice for many of our young people — why live laborious days, when you have the example of Jade Goody and her £8 million?
But you do not need to be a killjoy to deplore the shrieking, partying way of life that dominates popular culture. An abdication of responsibility underpins this hedonistic lifestyle. The makers of depraved “reality” TV, and politicians who will endorse any meretricious entertainment in the cause of modernisation are equally at fault.
This has prepared fertile ground for a Government that has lost touch with its roots. That area of east Manchester where, despite the defeat in the House of Lords, the Government still hopes to site a super-casino, is sadly typical of urban decay. Its need for regeneration is beyond dispute. But it is disgraceful that an administration of the Left should promote gambling as the instrument of renewal.
For vulnerable people, the miseries of debt will increase, as they risk money that they cannot afford. It is not difficult to see such individuals handing over social-security cheques in a vain attempt to win the wealth that society has denied them. Each super-casino is permitted to run 1250 “gambling machines” with unlimited jackpots. Known to most rational people as one-armed bandits, these devices will be particularly attractive to the weak-willed and the young.
The Government defends this as “liberalising the law”. A better description would be capitulation to the tycoons of Las Vegas. The new casinos will increase crime and disorder. There can be no long-term gain for east Manchester. The deprived areas of our inner cities do not need this rapacious and tacky industry. They need better housing, improved schools, effective policing, and, above all, real jobs — not low-wage employment as cleaners and security guards, which is all the casino-owners will offer.
If the Government has its way, the super-casino will be only the start — until the United Kingdom becomes the gambling capital of Europe.
Let us not fear accusations of Puritanism. Sobriety, industry, and a care for the protection of the most vulnerable are not causes for shame. A party with its roots in the dissenting conscience must be reminded of the values of its founding fathers.
Jill Segger is a freelance writer who contributes to Tribune, The Catholic Herald, The Friend, and other publications.