What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

January 30, 2007

Liberal? I wouldn’t bet on it

Today Manchester won its bid to host the sole regional super-casino, and the Lib Dems’ Culture spokesman, Don Foster, issued a predictably eeyore-ish response, arguing the Government “must get their gambling addiction under control”.

It’s a shame he’s chosen to indulge in the easy sound-bite, as Mr Foster makes some valid points.

He’s right to point out that the gambling industry should do more to tackle the ills associated with ‘problem gamblers’ - just compare the £2.5m the gambling industry gave to the main body dealing with gambling addictions with the £200m a year the drinks industry spends tackling alcohol problems. If the gambling industry isn’t picking up the tab, it will be the tax-payer.

The Lib Dems were also right, when the Gambling Bill was going through Parliament, to stick up for the right of local councils, acting on behalf of their residents, to reject casino bids. Indeed, when the proposals were first unveiled the Lib Dems were fully in favour of what were then termed ‘destination casinos’, especially if located in seaside resorts.

And, as The Observer reported on Sunday, Blackpool was pinning its hopes on winning the bid:
The majority [of residents] are so desperate to have the casino that council leaders are willing to knock down the police station and the law courts to accommodate it. At the end of last year, the local newspaper, the Blackpool Gazette, asked its readers a simple question: 'Do you want a super-casino?' An overwhelming 91 per cent of respondents said they did.
Read today’s Blackpool Gazette, and you get a flavour of the disappointment at Manchester’s victory.

In the circumstances, you might have thought the Lib Dems would be sympathetic to allowing a town like Blackpool to host a super-casino. After all, Mr Foster did suggest in the House of Commons debate of 1st November, 2004, that “we still need measures that will control the proliferation of super-casinos, perhaps by allowing one or two per region to start with” [my emphasis].

However, that suggestion of “one or two per region” appears to have bitten the dust, with Mr Foster today arguing that: “Any further increase in the number of super-casinos, without a full study of the impact on Manchester, would be against the wishes of Parliament and the concerns of many local communities.”

Liberals are rarely full-blown libertarians: we accept the individual’s freedom has, of necessity, occasionally to be curbed by government for the greater good of society. But our pre-disposition must always be to allow individuals freedom of choice over their own lives; including, crucially, the freedom to make mistakes.

Yet, too often, the Lib Dems appear to be the party of party-poopers, reluctant to relinquish state power to the individual for fear they will mis-use it. Last year, we (take another bow, Don) carped about liberalising the alcohol licensing laws. Now, apparently, we are against super-casinos even when they are wanted by local communities.

The Lib Dems often invoke the two Fs as a slogan: freedom and fairness. Perhaps we should toss another F into the mix: fun. (Steady now, Lembit.) Because, on the basis of today’s statement, there’s no F in liberalism.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more - wish Don would try to sound just a little like a Liberal rather than a killjoy.
Liberal Chris

Anonymous said...

And with our GLA team putting in a prissy motion about size zero models... there seems to be a bit a generation gap emerging in the party...

Nathaniel Tapley said...

I find the comment about there being a 'generation gap' in the Lib Dems interesting, but unsurprising. Let's face facts, a large proportion of the older members of the Lib Dems never joined a party with Liberal in its name.

Every major party has tensions at its core (monetarists vs 'one-nation' Conservatives vs Tories in the Conservative Party; democratic socialists vs corporate-led state-worshipping venal apparatchiks in the Labour Party). It looks to us outsiders as if the more libertarian wing of the Lib Dems has been in the ascendant since last year's conference. This year's local elections would seem to be the test of how that has played with the electorate (that and Ming's leadership).

It's worth remembering when you get to casinos and similar issues that all Lib Dems are not Liberals, and even fewer are liberals.

Chris Paul said...

Not even F-ing Democrats up here! Blogged this as John Leech had got his outburst in early. Pathetic!

And he's a young 'un, renowned unfortunately for being one of the most light weight Mps from any party of all time.

Tristan said...

The generation gap idea is interesting, although I've met older libertarians and younger social democrats in the party, so its not a solid dividing line.

It seems to me a more libertarian view is coming through (a good thing in my opinion) but we will never be a libertarian party (a good thing as well - given the purpose of a party is to gain power).

Expect more moaning from Tony Greaves about the evils of economic liberalism though...

Ian said...

Bravo. Word Up for the Libertarian Democrats!

Chris Paul said...

Tristan: "The purpose of a party is to gain power" is all very well but 'power for what?' is the question for Libdemologists.

There have to be some limits surely on what LD candidates will say and do to gain power? I have run a few blogs on my LoL site about the uncanny similarity between the Libdemologist appeal and that of the Scientologists.

But I think that it was the Moonies who trained up their activists to employ any lie whatsoever to recruit and retain "votes" and cash. It is a slippery slope mate.

Are you the same Tristan who blew the whistle a couple of months back on the Lib Dem pretence of support for Fair Trade?

Keep it coming anyway.

blin said...

the legacy: a comedy of terrors
Great new E-novel
The consequences of unchecked governance, when the ridiculous becomes sublime.
http://blog.myspace.com/153506273

Matt said...

I was gutted Blackpool didn't get it, as I blogged. Biased maybe as I went to school in Blackpool, but I saw the regeneration plans based around a casino and they were exactly what the town needed. And, frankly, East Manchester needed a supercasino much less.

Anyway, I've not noticed much of our reaction to the casino decision, but clearly there is a puritanical section of the party that take the minority but loud view that gambling is A Very Bad Thing.

You also reminded me how annoyed I was with our illiberal press releases when the 24 hour licensing laws came in - unusually going for the easy media hit that we are usually unfairly accused of.