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The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a review into the bookmaking industry, scrutinising gambling machines known as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
The machines, which campaigners describe as highly addictive, allow gamblers to stake up to £100 every 20 seconds. They made £1.82bn in the year to September 2016 and account for 56% of revenues at betting shops, according to figures released by the industry regulator the Gambling Commission,
Online Casino notes that in a research note in April, analysts at Barclays Capital forecast that if MPs restrict the size of the stake to £2, Ladbrokes Coral would lose £449m in revenues in 2018, and William Hill £284m. Betfair, another gambling company, would lose £55m.
The Financial Times reports that William Hill and Ladbrokes Coral, two of the UK’s biggest bookmakers, spent just £2,004 in 2015, £2,800 in 2014 and £3,300 in 2013. According to the parliamentary register they significantly increased the amount they spent on entertaining MPs – £18,018 on hospitality for 12 MPs – since the start of 2016.
A staunch defender of the gambling industry, Mr Davies chairs the Betting and Gaming All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), and vice-chair of both the Bingo APPG and the Racing and Bloodstock APPG.
Labour wants to see the maximum stake reduced from £100 to £2 because the addictive high-stakes machines have become a huge problem for communities that are often struggling to cope with underinvestment and high unemployment.
Neil Austin comments that MP Philip Davies (left), chairman of the betting and gaming all party parliamentary group, is quite right to say it would be extraordinary of he did not engage with the betting industry. He adds:
“The reputation of parliament and of MPs is languishing far below where it needs to be for a strong democracy. Mr Davies and the other MPs mentioned in your report seem to have learnt nothing from the expenses scandal.
“Many organisations have strict rules prohibiting employees from accepting almost any hospitality where a conflict of interest could be perceived. If we are to try to return parliament to a more trusted position in the country, one small step would be for MPs to abide by the same rules”.
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In 2015, people turned their backs on mainstream political parties, disillusioned by successive governments legislating in the interests of big business instead of those who had elected them.
The first sign of revolt came in August 2013 when parliament, reflecting the overwhelming public opposition, voted against military action in Syria – for the first time not prioritising the relationship with the United States. Many had seen the Ken Loach film and been inspired by its account of the stable economy achieved in five years by a war-impoverished nation.
The wild card? New voters had entered politics in large numbers – deprived and angry – mobilised by an energetic eighteen year old.
Ben Jackson was one of the 300,000 youngsters in Britain who had grown up in households where no-one in the family had ever worked since his grandmother’s generation in the ‘60s.
In his region alone, by 2013, there were children under the age of sixteen living in 171,000 households where nobody worked.
The support network available to his parents’ generation had been dispersed to different areas during the ‘60s demolition of the back-to-back houses where they lived, some splendidly renovated and overseen by Copec housing, and people from other areas came in to occupy the flats which replaced the houses.
His first ‘official’ set-back
Ben passed the grammar school entrance examination – a remarkable feat in his school. A number of other children from various schools were also just over the borderline but there were only two places available so King Edward’s admissions officer phoned Ben’s headmaster asking his opinion of the boy. No support was given – the lad had disagreed with the head once too often; he said firmly – and with some satisfaction – “Ben would stick out like a sore thumb at grammar school” . . . payback. The place was given to another boy.
Though he was not told of this transaction, being well aware of his own ability, Ben felt instinctively that he had not been given his fair due, and the seeds of anger and resentment were sown.
He began to register the plight of people in the area where he lived.
He saw the boredom, the lack of purpose, the addiction to antidepressants, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs and started to meet the few who were politically active in the mainstream parties and then Respect, the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Co-operative Party. The liveliness and dedication of the SWP attracted him, but he eventually left after finding that he was expected to accept their policies unquestioningly. His enthusiasm for the policies of the Co-operative Party waned when he saw that their radical conference resolutions – passed with large majorities by members – were ignored by the party hierarchy and did not feature in the official manifesto.
Then came the outburst from Russell Brand – whom Ben had formerly discounted as an attention-seeking degenerate – expressing the anger and disillusionment of masses of people in the same way as Ben later learnt to do with his help.
And one day, by chance, Ben saw a way of making a real political difference.