Beyond surreal

A confluence of two successive tweets :


Isabel, dear heart, an emergency stop is what urbanites would do. The true country type keeps going, then stops, in hope the road kill is still sufficiently intact to be cookable (I’ve even seen it done by the footplate crew of the ex-GER Claud Hamilton, bringing the grammar school kids home from Fakenham to Wells). As in Cannery Row, chapter 13:

steinbeck-canneryEddie driving, they backed up over the rise, over the top, and turned and headed forward and down past Hatton Fields. In Carmel Valley the artichoke plants stood grey-green and the willows were lush along the river. They turned left up the valley. Luck blossomed from the first. A dusty Rhode Island Red rooster who had wandered too far from his own farmyard crossed the road and Eddie hit him without running too far off the road. Sitting in the back of the truck, Hazel picked him as they went and let the feathers fly from his hand, the most widely distributed evidence on record, for there was a little breeze in the morning, blowing down from Jamesburg and some of the red chicken-feathers were deposited on Pt. Lobos and some even blew out to sea.

The cattle-freight issue is a bit more problematic. It’s the triumph of bovine excretion over aeronautical technology. Strip out the crap, and the core matter of that Independent report is:

Pilots sent out a distress signal and received permission to come down at Heathrow Airport, London.

Yet when technicians inspected the cows’ deck they found no evidence of flames or even smoke.

Cows emit large quantities of methane and maintain body temperatures slightly higher than that of a human – the combination of which may have explained the sounding of an alarm.

I cannot attest to the extent of methane in cows’ emissions (mostly orally, rather than the other direction). I gather the human produces about 7% methane in that species’ fart-gas. This might help:


A back-of-an-envelope calculation suggests that 400 cows, packed into a 747, would produce about 11 kilos of methane in a couple of hours.

This is serious stuff:

German cows cause methane blast in Rasdorf

Methane gas released by dairy cows has caused an explosion in a cow shed in Germany, police said.

The roof was damaged and one of the cows was injured in the blast in the central German town of Rasdorf.

Thanks to the belches and flatulence of the 90 dairy cows in the shed, high levels of the gas had built up.

Then “a static electric charge caused the gas to explode with flashes of flames” the force said in a statement quoted by Reuters news agency.

Emergency services attended the farm and took gas readings to test for the risk of further blasts, said local media.

Cows are believed to emit up to 500 litres of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – each per day.

Which is why it isn’t advisable to keep cows in a greenhouse.

Where this comes home to me is the memories of the 8p.m. B&I crossing out of Dublin, North Wall, for Liverpool.


In the days before obsolescent 747s were reduced to cattle-carriers (though that experience cannot be too different for bipedal “walk-on freight” in “cattle-class” on transatlantic flights) the ferry would pull into Birkenhead to unload the cows, then pull across the Mersey to deposit the humans.

Choose the wrong day and one was woken by either the roar of still sea-sick kine, or the odour of their deposits.

All that apart, the job of hosing out the fuselage of a 747 cattle-carrier doesn’t attract.

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Filed under blogging, Dublin., Independent, John Steinbeck, travel, Wells-next-the-Sea

Jumping on the bandwagon

That previous post, taking from Anne Treneman, had Dodgy Dave the Snakeoil Salesman:

It is rather extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman comes here, having not said that [Maria Miller] should resign, saying that she should have resigned. It shows all the signs of someone seeing a political bandwagon and wanting to jump on it. He is jumping on this bandwagon after the whole circus has left town.

I see there some dangers of a stale metaphor.

The OED‘s earliest citation for band wagon is from 1855 and the Life of P.T.Barnum, who must have known something about circuses and bandwagons:

In our subsequent southern tour we exhibited at Nashville (where I visited General Jackson, at the Hermitage), Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Vicksburg and intermediate places, doing tolerably well. At Vicksburg we sold all our land conveyances, excepting the band wagon and four horses, bought the steamboat “Ceres,” for six thousand dollars, hired the captain and crew, and started down the river to exhibit at places on the way. At Natchez our cook left us, and in the search for another I found a white widow who would go, only she expected to marry a painter. I called on the painter who had not made up his mind whether to marry the widow or not, but I told him if he would marry her the next morning I would lure her at twenty-five dollars a month as cook, employ him at the same wages as painter, with board for both, and a cash bonus of fifty dollars. There was a wedding on board the next day, and we had a good cook and a good dinner.

 I like that, not just for the pragmatics of Barnum’s domestic arrangements, or even for that dry style. It also shows that the band wagon (two words) was the only item the circus didn’t leave behind and so onto which one might jump when the circus had already left town. One can see why, if this specimen is anything to go by:



We have to wait nearly half a century for band wagon to become a metaphor.

The OED has a bizarre citation from the Congressional Record 25th August 1893:

 It is a lamentable fact that.. our commercial enemy..should come along with a band wagon loaded with hobgoblins.

Indeed. Just the kind of thing that makes one seek the full source for explanation. Now, have you tried to access the Congressional Record for 1893? It is, apparently, out there on the net; but glacial it hardly approaches. So far I have not managed it, but I suspect it may be something to do with the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Note, though, that band wagon is still two separate words.

Teddy Roosevelt is of the two-word party in a letter of April 1899:

When I once became sure of one majority they tumbled over each other to get aboard the band wagon.

 That would be when he was tiring of life in Albany as Governor of New York, and when the New York Republicans were tiring of his radicalism, and the meeting-of-minds led to his nomination for the Vice-Presidency.

As far as I can see we didn’t get to bandwagon (as a composite single word) until the end of the 1950s. I wonder how many would recognise that Juggernaut of Barnum’s as a “band wagon”.

Oh, and the OED has Juggernaut as:

A title of Kṛishṇa, the eighth avatar of Vishṇu; spec., the uncouth idol of this deity at Pūrī in Orissa, annually dragged in procession on an enormous car, under the wheels of which many devotees are said to have formerly thrown themselves to be crushed.

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Filed under Ann Treneman, David Cameron, History, Oxford English Dictionary, Times, Tories.

A canine lickspittle

Anne Treneman doing the parliamentary sketch on yesterday’s PMQs:

Dave accused Ed of jumping on a political bandwagon. At the words “bandwagon”, some Tory MPs, who, like Pavlov’s dog, cannot control themselves, started to whoop. Michael Ellis, a strong contender for lickspittle of the year, actually pounded his feet on the ground.

The rest is good stuff. At least I feel that Ms Treneman was really there, unlike Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail who never fails to witness Cameron and his the big, swinging dick:

QUENTIN LETTS sees Cameron wipe the floor with Ed at PM’s Questions

Nice repetition there: hate to think this squit was a pale imposter’s:

An odd moment: on the squashed benches, as Nigel Adams (Con, Selby  & Ainsty) was about to ask a question  on coal mines, his local pit having just  been closed. Mr Adams reached into what he thought was the right pocket of his suit jacket and, to his surprise, pulled out a packet of fags.

Turned out the MPs were packed so close to one another he had accidentally picked his neighbour’s pocket.

Oh, so droll! Oddly enough, I had found myself commenting on the several aching gaps of empty green leather toward the rear on the Tory side. Easter hols, y’know.

But, to stay with Ms Treneman. 

The much-coveted Order of the Brown Nose award

The much-coveted Order of the Brown Nose award

The Pavlov tendency is strong among Tories. With good reason:

With the parliamentary expenses scandal fresh in the memory, it takes a bold politician to suggest rewarding politicians.

Step forward David Cameron, who has revived the parliamentary and political service honours committee.

There was a time when Tory MPs of a certain vintage could look forward to a knighthood, as ordinary workers would look forward to a long-service watch.

The Liberal Democrats, too, used to dispense political honours – failed parliamentary candidates could sometimes look forward to an OBE by way of consolation, although for many in politics public service is its own reward.

The new committee will also consider awards for members of the UK’s devolved assemblies …

Kudos then to Paul Flynn, who nailed it:

Paul Flynn, had another suggestion for those behind the new awards: “Did you consider if you were rewarding people who were the whips’ favourite, the order of the lickspittle or the order of the toadie, which would be appropriate?”

Take your pick, Michael Ellis.

Sad to say, Mr Ellis may not be with us for long. His majority is below 2,000. His seat, Northampton North, changes hands with each change of government. The strong Lib Dem vote (28% at the last outing), will be wilting next time — and will not naturally lean Tory either.

Which leaves one question:

Why do Tories insist on living up to the “stupid party” reputation?

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Filed under Ann Treneman, Daily Mail, Times, Tories.

Morning joy

A delightful mini-interview (actually three minutes direct to camera) with Bob Mankoff.

Who he?

The great arbiter of the funnies in the New Yorker, that’s who.

He looks the part of “the cartoon editor of the New Yorker”.

He talks the part. This, fellow Brits, is the epitome of the smart Noo York dude.

His gestures are superb, theatrical and pointed.

To cap it all, “I had a complicated relationship with my mother”.

A consistent tradition

mTv3Yhtk-N7huz2n0f4pjvAThe true joy is Mankoff’s collection of New Yorker cartoons, first published for the magazine’s 80th anniversary (and more recently up-dated). By no coincidence, the accompanying double CD — which had the entire oeuvre of 68,647 images — seems to have been ‘borowed’.

The punchiness of too many remains painfully true — what Mankoff calls “the right amount of wrong”. There is, for a prime example, this one by Al Frueh, from that dismal year 1932:

Frueh 1932

I have never quite got the fascination with Thurberesque seals (an Algonquin in-joke?). That apart, many of these simple drawings are appealing, simple and have hidden depths. Here, for example, is an Alan Dunn from May 1946:

Alan Dunn May 46

It implies much the same as Norman Rockwell’s Willie Gillis in College [which I think is a magnificent concoction], the Saturday Evening Post front cover spread later that year:

Wiilie Gillis at college


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Filed under BBC, New York City, New Yorker, Norman Rockwell

A Gimson parliamentary goodie

Andrew Gimson (husband of the formidable Sally), discarded by the Torygraph, and now depping for ConHome, has been wrong over the Maria Miller affair. He makes good by decorating his PMQs sketch with a teaser:

David Cameron made an admirably provocative statement as he tried to defend his handling of the Maria Miller affair: “This is a good and honest Parliament with good and hard-working people in it.”

Many people will at once reject this assertion. There is a widespread view that MPs are a bunch of greedy and corrupt scoundrels. It seems unlikely this will become known to history as the Honest Parliament. The names we have given to particular Parliaments have most often been uncomplimentary: they include Addled, Barebones, Drunken, Dunces, Mad, Mongrel, Rump, Unlearned and Useless.

Parliament-The-Biography-VolI suspect that means Mr Gimson is getting to Chris Bryant before I have.

So, a bit of self-testing:

The Addled Parliament

That was 1614, when it all went sour between James I and parliament.

The influence of the Puritans was increasing. One of its earliest decisions was to debouch, en masse, to St Margaret’s, Westminster, and defiantly by-passing the High Anglican celebrations at the intervening Abbey:

The Communion to be received … not at the Abbey, but at the Parish Church. That in the Abbey they administer not with common bread contrary [to the] 20th Canon and the Book of Common Prayer.

That’s from the Commons’ Journals for 13th April, 1614; and it marks the moment from which the traditional link between the Commons and St Margaret’s dates.

Along with suspicion of a Catholic plot (it’s only a few years since Guy Fawkes & co.), the running sore was royal expenditure. James I was in debt. The war with Spain had been concluded by the Treaty of London; and the Commons were objecting to expenditure on the royal favourites.

The Barebones Parliament

Another easy one, also known as “the Parliament of Saints”. The independent congregations in each county were asked for nominees. Cromwell’s Council of Officers then selected 140 persons “fearing God and of approved fidelity and honesty”, who were summoned in June 1653. One precedent was set here: five of the chosen were representatives from Scotland (see also next entry), and six from Ireland.

This motley crew duly announced themselves a parliament, elected a Council of State (adding eighteen of their own to Cromwell’s existing Council of thirteen), and created a Byzantine complex of twelve great committees to set about redressing grievances and reforming the body politic.

What went wrong is a majority were provincial gentry who could not afford constant attendance at Westminster, whereas the more extreme elements were only too ready to attend regularly, and push through ‘extreme’ measures: civil marriage, registration of births, marriages and deaths, reform of imprisonment for debt, and a more enlightened treatment for lunatics and the mentally-incompetent. Since there were no lawyers in the Commons, laws made by amateurs might have been simple, but they were not fool-proof.

The moderate majority lost patience, arrived in force on 12 December 1653, and moved to vote themselves out of existence. When the extreme faction turned up, the Speaker and his moderate supporters hiked out to abdicate. The residue was inquorate, and had to be persuaded by the arrival of a couple of colonels and a force of musketeers. In the end eighty, a clear majority, signed the deed of abdication.

Cromwell was left the absolute power in  the country.

The Drunken Parliament

I needed a nudge with that one.

If one had been near Edinburgh’s Mercat Cross on 4th February 1652, one would have heard eight trumpeters go full blast, followed by the bizarre Norman-French repeated cry of Oyez!

The English Parliamentarians had sent a “Tender of Union” to the eighty-nine parliamentary constituencies (thirty-one shires and fifty-eight royal burghs) of Scotland. This “Union” was enforced by occupation and General Monck’s army — it took an entire regiment to cow Glasgow. The Scottish parliament was abolished. The Scottish Privy Council was supplanted by English commissioners and their dupes. The judiciary was replaced by effective Cromwellian army officers.

Come the Restoration, the Earl of Middleton came north as Commissioner to the restored Scottish Parliament. On New Year’s Day, Middleton rode up the Royal Mile to open Parliament. For the record, Parliament Hall, beside St Giles Cathedral, is the oldest purpose-built parliamentary building in these islands.

The contemporary accounts have Middleton in his usual intoxicated condition. Charles II appointed as  Secretary of State for Scotland John Maitland, the Earl of Lauderdale. Once a Covenanter and moderate Presbyterian, Lauderdale had spent a decade in English prisons after the Battle of Worcester: not surprisingly, the experience had turned him to drink.

The Drunken Parliament then rescinded all laws passed since 1633 (the year of Charles I’s coronation in Edinburgh), killed the settlement of 1639-41, restored all the royal prerogatives, made the Covenanters illegal. All office-holders had to swear loyalty to the new régime. The nobility had their jurisdictions and patronages restored. The Episcopacy was re-established, and all parish ministers appointed since 1649 would have to seek patronage and the bishop’s confirmation (a third of the ministry, mainly in the west and south-west of Scotland, were dispossessed. Their replacements were derided as “king’s curates”, and the former ministers set up in new “conventicles”.

Officialdom finally realised things were going too far. Middleton was sent off to be Governor of Tangier (where he died in 1674, falling down stairs dead drunk) and replaced by John Leslie.

It inevitably all ended in tears, and the Pentland Rising of 1666.

The Dunces Parliament

Wa-hey! We’re heading back here, all the way to 1404.

In the middle of his troubles with the Percies, Henry IV summoned parliament to Coventry. He deliberately excluded any lawyers: the legal writers of London had just unionised themselves  (the Inner and Middle Temples have records from 1388), to general disapproval:

DICK: The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
CADE: Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man?

The Mad Parliament

Even further back: 11th June 1258. We are even at the birth of parliaments in England.

I think the name may have come, and certainly was given notice, from David Hume, writing in 1761:

This parliament, which the royalists, and even the nation, from experience of the confusions that attended its measures, afterwards denominated the mad parliament, met on the day appointed; and as all the barons brought along with them their military vassals, and appeared with an armed force, the king, who had taken no precautions against them, was in reality a prisoner in their hands, and was obliged to submit to all the terms which they were pleased to impose upon him. Twelve barons were selected from among the king’s ministers; twelve more were chosen by parliament: To these twenty-four, unlimited authority was granted to reform the state; and the king himself took an oath, that he would maintain whatever ordinances they should think proper to enact for that purpose.

Edward II had summoned parliament, in part because he was at his (limited) wits’ end in dealing with bumptious barons, in part because he hoped for supply to finance the Pope’s offer of a kingdom in Sicily. What he got were the Provisions of Oxford (still with Hume here):

… three sessions of parliament should be regularly held every year, in the months of February, June, and October; that a new sheriff should be annually elected by the votes of the free holders in each county; that the sheriffs should have no power of fining the barons who did not attend their courts, or the circuits of the justiciaries; that no heirs should be committed to the wardship of foreigners, and no castles intrusted to their custody; and that no new warrens or forests should be created, nor the revenues of any counties or hundreds be let to farm. 

The consequences of all that were bloody, and need not detain us here.

The Mongrel Parliament

Whoops! Back to the seventeenth-century.

This was Charles I’s last attempt at any kind of P.R.

The Long Parliament had split into “royalist” and “parliamentarian” factions and, by 1642 had arrived at a state of civil war. Visit the Round House pub and restaurant in Nottingham to be on the spot where Charles  raised his Royal Standard on 22 August 1642.

In 1644 Charles summoned a parliament at Oxford. It met just the once. Meanwhile, the parliamentarians were still in London, still the “Long Parliament” and about to be reduced to:

The Rump Parliament

In December 1648 Colonel Pride forcibly evicted 110 moderate members (forty arrested, seventy more barred) . The Rump was now just a sixth of the membership of 1640, and a tenth of the original 1640 MPs . It now voted for the king’s execution.

The Unlearned Parliament

We’ve visted here before. This is a variant on the Dunces’ Parliament of 1404 , so see above.

The Useless Parliament

Charles I’s first parliament, which sat from July 1625, decamped to Oxford on 1st August because of the plague, and was dissolved on 12th August.

Charles was asking for revenue for a war with Spain. This amounted to a life-time income from the duties of tonnage and poundage (that is, import and export taxes, and a royal right which had existed since 1414), for the length of this reign. Parliament were prepared to make the grant for only a year at a time. Since this was unacceptable to Charles, he had Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, block the Commons bill in the Lords. The Commons then moved to impeach Buckingham. Charles dissolved parliament, and entered into an attempt at absolute rule.

The real moment of interest was the MPs holding the Speaker, John Finch, in the chair until they had declared any payment of tonnage and poundage to be illegal.

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Filed under ConHome, History, politics

An embuggerance

Someone had to get the tar-baby:

Conservative MP Sajid Javid has been named as the new culture secretary.

The MP for Bromsgrove has been promoted from his current role as Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

 I find that interesting for a number of reasons:

  • The gossip had been Andrea Leadsom was in line (in stead, she got the Economic Secretary to the Treasury post):


  • Which would have meant not only a one-for-one woman Cabinet replacement, but also a mother-for-mother. Mrs Leadsom has not only a clean record on expenses:

If I am elected as the Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire, I will:

i) publish my expenses on the internet each month.

ii) minimise my use of taxpayer funded allowances.

iii) never claim for groceries or other expenses that are not justifiably incurred in doing my job.

 These pledges are not the result of the scandal that has engulfed politics in the last few weeks – they are just common sense, and are no different to how I viewed my expenses during my 25 years working in business and in the charity sector.

 Any FTSE company could provide guidance to the House of Commons on expenses policy – it’s really not difficult, and there is no excuse for dithering over getting it sorted.

She also is mother to three children.

Nicky Morgan, who voted against equal marriage, as Minister for Women.

Mr Javid replaces Maria Miller at DCMS, with Ms Morgan stepping up a rank in the Treasury and attending Cabinet as Minister for Women. 

Gloria De Piero MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, said: “David Cameron’s decision to replace Maria Miller with Sajid Javid means that there is now no full member of the Cabinet speaking for women. There are now just three women running Government departments out of a possible twenty two, demonstrating that when it comes to women, it’s out of sight, out of mind for this out of touch Government.”

  • Mrs Morgan, who does come encumbered with a son, might even be considered ‘deserving’.
  • Her constituency, Loughborough, is one of the ‘bellwether” seats that tend to go with changes of government. Her majority (3,744 or 7.1%) was bolstered by a higher-than-national voting shift from Labour to LibDem over the years of the Labour government: there are over 16,000 students at Loughborough University.

Javid is interesting himself, for any number of reasons:

Javid joined Chase Manhattan Bank in New York immediately out of university, working mostly in South America. Aged 25, he became the youngest Vice-President in the history of the bank. He relocated to London in 1997, and later joined Deutsche Bank as a Director in 2000. In 2004 he became a managing director at Deutsche Bank and, one year later, Global Head of Emerging Markets Structuring. In 2007 he relocated to Singapore as head of Deutsche Bank’s credit trading, equity convertibles, commodities and private equity businesses in Asia, and was appointed a board member of Deutsche Bank International Limited. He left Deutsche Bank in 2009 to pursue a career in politics. His earnings at Deutsche Bank would have been roughly £3m a year at the time he left.

  • His ministerial experience, so far, is Treasury-based. We can assume, then, he is a “friend of George“. What he can contribute to his new brief in “Culture” remains to be seen.

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Filed under ConHome, Conservative family values, culture, Guardian, politics, politicshome, Tim Montgomerie, Tories.

Odds on morning after

I find that yesterday’s papers are where you find the gems … and the dross.

Yesterday The Times had a story:

High St ‘clusters’ of betting shops face clampdown

On line that became:

High streets ban for ‘clusters’ of betting shops

As far as I can see, the rest remains unchanged:

The proliferation of high street betting shops is to be curbed with ministers ready to give town halls powers to block “clusters” of bookmakers.

David Cameron is also convinced that greater restrictions are required on casino-style fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBT) to “minimise harm” and prevent the spread of problem gambling.

Inevitably, it has to be the former Labour government’s fault:

Successive governments have relaxed the regulations, notably Labour in 2005, when it said that gambling should be viewed as an entertainment.

Where that falls down is:

  • FOBTs only originated in 2002.
  • In 2005 they were still a disaster waiting to happen.
  • At the time of the 2005 Gambling Act, both Labour and Tories had been under pressure from the betting industry to permit their introduction. John Whittingdale, for the Tories, seemed an outright enthusiast:

For 30 years, the UK industry has been a model of responsibility. It has been largely free of organised criminal activity and the level of problem gambling is much lower in this country than elsewhere. It was for that reason that the previous Conservative Government felt able to introduce measures to liberalise the rules…

The Government’s attitude towards fixed-odds betting terminals remains uncertain. Will those machines be treated like other category B machines and allowed in adult gaming centres and bingo halls? Having listened to the Secretary of State’s speech this afternoon, that concern will grow because she appeared unwilling to accept the agreement between the Association of British Bookmakers and the Gaming Board…

  • In 2005 the then Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, Richard Caborn, said:  “High stake slot machines, including FOBTs, remain on probation and we will continue to adopt a cautious approach. Government will not hesitate to act should there be sound evidence of harm.”

Change and decay in all around I see…

Since then it has all got very gory.

There are now over 33,000 of these FOBTs across Britain. Since the limitation is “number of machines per premises”, the betting businesses have increased their penetration by multiplying the number of betting shops. Incredible as it sounds:

... bookmakers are categorised as “financial services”, so converting a former bank or estate agent into a betting shop requires no planning permission. When applications are required to change use, such as when a shop has become vacant, councils are reluctant to turn down bookmakers in case they are taken to court.

Now to my puzzlement about the other numbers in that Times piece:

The number of betting shops has grown only slightly since the recession, by about 600 to 9,000. However, it is the clustering on the high street that many councils and residents detest. Newcastle city centre has 16 within a few hundred yards. Overall, bookies account for 9 per cent of high street floor space, up from 4 per cent in 2008.

Presumably that depends on when the “recession” is supposed to have begun. Even so, an increase of 600 is over 7% — but a leap from 4% to 9% of high street floor space is more than a doubling. The numbers, as they say, don’t add up.

Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

Around the turn of the year Labour — and the estimable Tom Watson in particular — had a fit of the vapours over FOBTs:

We’re in the grip of a new addiction – high-speed, high-stakes gambling.

What’s fuelling this destructive habit is the fixed odds betting terminal(FOBT), a machine that allows people to bet £100 every 20 seconds for 13 hours a day.

These digital roulette terminals are making millions for the gambling industry, and making losers out of those who can least afford to lose.

And there’s also growing evidence that they’re turning bookies from places where people have a flutter on the horses into criminal dens linked to money laundering.

That’s why I want FOBTs curbed and the government to get a grip of this disgraceful situation. David Cameron must stand by his pledge to me at prime minister’s question time that the government will take a “proper look” at FOBTs.

This was all to the considerable distress of, for one, Freddy Gray in The Spectator, who instantly saw it all as a political plot:

A FOBT ban could be terminal for high-street bookies – and great for a Labour donor

The Daily Mail likes to call FOBTs the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’, which makes them sound much more fun than they are. Campaigners claim that gaming companies use FOBTs to prey on ‘the most vulnerable’, by which they mean the feckless poor.

Miliband, a puritan at heart, wants to give councils the power to ban FOBTs. David Cameron, for his part, says that he wants to see ‘empirical evidence’ before he takes action, but he does believe that there are ‘problems with the betting and gambling industry’ and that it is his job to stamp them out.

And the Labour gain here is, precisely?

A FOBT ban on top of the new [Point of Consumption] tax could be a crippling double blow, even for giants such as William Hill and Ladbrokes. The most obvious beneficiary, however, would be Bet365, Britain’s biggest online operator. Interestingly, Bet365’s owners, the Coates family, have given the Labour party more than £400,000 over the last decade. I wouldn’t bet against them soon becoming Britain’s leading bookies.

Tom’s position was quite straightforward:

So how do we stop the growth of FOBTs, which continue to invade our high streets like Japanese knotweed and with the same destructive force? It’s simple. We reduce the maximum stake from £100 to £2. No other country in the developed world allows £100-a-spin machines on the high street.

Hmm: Knotweed doesn’t appear too frequently in the well-trodden streets of old York, but I’ll take Tom’s word for it. And in all truth, the official Labour proposal was very modest, even “localist” (which was, at least back in 2010, an essential principle of this ConDem arrangement):

Labour would empower local councils to ban fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from high streets, Ed Miliband has confirmed.

The Labour leader claimed the FOBTs, which let gamblers bet £300 a minute or £18,000 an hour, were being targeted at poor people.

Councils would be given a range of powers including stopping the spread of FOBTs, reducing their number or banning them altogether. On a visit to Kilburn in north London, Miliband said: “In towns and cities across Britain today, you can see how the old bookies are being turned into mini casinos. In the poorest areas, these are spreading like an epidemic along high streets with the pawn shops and payday lenders that are becoming symbols of Britain’s cost-of-living crisis.

“In Newham [east London] there are 87 betting shops with an estimated 348 machines and across the five Liverpool constituencies there are 153 betting shops with around 559 FOBTs.”


By the way, The Spectator‘s position was unreconstructed as late as mid-March:

Ed Miliband and Tom Watson, among others, want to give councils the power to ban FOBTs. That seems fundamentally illiberal. But Watson is right to say that the government’s latest levy on FOBTs means that the Treasury will ‘profit from the problem rather than deal with it.’ Once a government starts making huge sums of money from a frowned-on thing — like booze, cigarettes, and gambling — it is hard to taken them seriously when they express concern about the impact. Taxing vices is not in and of itself a virtue. Quite the opposite.

Another indecisive Cameron decision

The Times story, from which this post has derived, was little more than a spoiler (including ‘borrowing’ the numbers). The Guardian had already splurged the ‘leak’:

Downing Street is poised to announce a crackdown on high-speed, high-stakes gambling machines, with fresh penalties for bookmakers if they fail to enforce new limits on playing times and betting losses, the Guardian has learned…

This week Cameron is due to announce a clampdown on the terminals, with a range of regulatory and planning powers to curb the clustering of shops. These moves come a month after the chancellor’s surprise 5% tax increase on the betting machines in the budget.

The prime minister’s personal interest in the matter has rung alarm bells in boardrooms. In the letter, Cameron questioned whether the industry limits were too high and asked the Gambling Commission, the regulator, to see whether they should be reduced.

He also proposed making the strengthened measures part of the operating licence – essentially making the new code mandatory rather than voluntary, as the industry had wanted.

Excuses, excuses

What remains unexplained here is why Cameron & co. resisted the reasonable proposals of Miliband, Tom Watson & co. at start of the year, but now seek to impose centralised regulation.

We are about to find it was all her fault, again:

The betting industry had been prepared for an announcement this week, but it has been delayed, possibly because Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary and minister in charge, is the subject of a ferocious row over her parliamentary expenses. Mr Cameron fears that the announcement would be obscured by questions about her future.

Remember, folks: when you through someone under a bus, make sure you attach as much baggage as possible.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., culture, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Fraser Nelson, Guardian, The Spectator, Times, Tom Watson MP, Tories.