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STOTTY ON SUNDAY: Blair values are in a spin.

Byline: Richard Stott

IT'S becoming increasingly difficult to puzzle out where this Government is trying to lead us. Tony Blair constantly - rather too constantly - tells us of his vision for a new Britain, but it's a Britain that's full of contradictions and opposing forces.

We're told we must be healthier and eat better. Not just because it is better for us, but because it is better for the NHS too. Then Blair encourages an open-all-hours pub happy hour High Street free-for-all designed to give the liver a fair run for its money, not to mention a sharp increase in drunken brawls that finish up in casualty and cost the Health Service a fortune.

The stock answer to this is the new policy will stagger - a good word - closing hours and therefore reduce yobbery. But that won't work if the last bus still goes at midnight.

The latest vision is of a Britain of full employment with everyone in a well-paid steady job and saving for a comfortable pension. Saving is the new message, even though credit card debt is going through the roof.

Now the Government announces an enormous deregulation of the gambling industry with American money flooding in to invest in scores of glittering new casinos.

How does Blair reconcile saving with encouraging people to gamble? He doesn't. Yet as the Salvation Army will tell you, victims of gambling debt misery are invariably the most vulnerable...the poor.

This isn't some preachy 19th Century argument from the Temperance Halls. In Australia gambling was deregulated in the 1990s and the ensuing tax bonanza filled the government's coffers.

But today there are more gambling addicts per head of population than anywhere else in the world. It has also brought a big increase in bankruptcies, theft and fraud cases involving those desperate for cash to feed their addiction.

When Tony Blair was setting out on his New Labour mission he said modernisation of the party was not about dumping principle. "It's the opposite. It's retrieving what the Labour Party is really about."

Labour Party members may argue to eternity what Labour is really about. But one thing it is not about is receiving the American head of the world's largest slot machine company with open arms at Number 10 when dying Gulf War veterans can't get past the door.

Raising money by encouraging US gambling bosses to tempt people who can ill afford to toss their own and their families' future away on the spin of a wheel or the pull of a lever is hardly a traditional Labour value.

Not much of a future pension in that. Not much principle either.

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Blair is gambling with our future; Gambling fever could hit Britain
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 24, 2004
Words:453
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