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“Can we try to avoid the internal
wrangling and navel-gazing in 2010?”
Former UK Shadow Gambling Minister Nick Hawkins sorts the wheat
from the chaff in his bi-monthly column…
s this Autumn has progressed, as usual I’ve gambling-friendly MPs of all parties – there is no
been attending various AGMs, conferences doubt we will continue to need every one of them!
and conventions for different parts of the Another mistake was, when leading spokesmen for
Gambling industry. As it is a pre-General the parties were on a panel on the stage to answer
Election period, despite the low esteem in questions, instead of rigorously controlling these to
which all UK MPs of all parties are now held (even the ensure only the most articulate points were made,
innocent ones are tarred with the same brush!) due to there was a long and rambling diatribe allowed from
the expenses scandals, there has inevitably been quite the floor. This from someone undoubtedly sincere
a substantial concentration on political matters, and but with no idea whatever how to make a point, (and
interest in what may change, if there should be a neither doing so, nor asking a question) went on with
change of Government in the Spring – as most (but no intervention or control from the platform. It gave,
not all) polls suggest is quite likely. sad to say, a very counter-productive impression. This
The conferences and conventions traditionally invite was then compounded by almost every other person
the primary spokesmen on our issues from the complaining that one section of the industry now
Opposition parties to speak, plus the Secretary of State had unfair advantages over others.
or junior Minister responsible from the Government, I entirely understand, of course, why people are
and other MPs who take an interest may be invited. It concerned with their own businesses and their
is important that every opportunity is taken for the issues, to the exclusion of all else. However, those
best possible case to be put to MPs of all parties. This controlling the debate, and inviting the political
may require iron control from the platform of who is speakers, have to see the wider picture – and if
called to put points to the politicians, and the case necessary, have to be absolutely ruthless in telling
which is made whilst politicians are present. Other their membership “this is how it is”; and not calling
internal issues can, and should, be hammered out the inadequate speakers. Questions of fairness or
separately behind closed doors. The most important unfairness within the industry are far better
matter of all to be borne in mind is that, in thinking addressed in smaller private meetings, whether with
Nick Hawkins is a Barrister about “UK plc” as a whole, and in Government terms, Ministers or senior civil servants.
specialising in Gambling and the entire Gambling industry is regarded as quite small The view in Government (especially one like the
Leisure law. In his 13 years beer. Especially when, as now, the Prime Minister has a present, which will never be particularly friendly to the
in Parliament previously, he strong personal lifelong antipathy towards our industry industry) is bound to be “we’ve done some things for
held roles in Government and (such that any gambling-industry-friendly measures them, why are they whinging and whining; these
Opposition, including which might emanate from the DCMS always run the people want the Moon” ! After the recent pre-Budget
Shadow Solicitor-General risk of being shot down by No.10 Downing St), it report, setting the financial agenda from now to the
and Shadow Sports Minister. behoves us all to try to maintain a united front and a General Election, was memorably summed up in a
He is now Legal Director for professional posture. sentence as “only good for boilers and Bingo” the
a gaming company. It was therefore with some despair that I noted at Government will no doubt be thinking – “right, we’ve
one large industry event that a speech in opening cut Bingo tax – that’s all we need do for the gambling
was perceived as calling so openly for a change in industry for now…”
Government that it provoked a noisy walkout by a If I have a New Year wish, it will be for the industry
Government MP (who had never attended the event as a whole to realise how damaging all this “friendly
before – and said he never would again now!) but fire” is to one another’s interests.
who has always been known to be gambling-industry- On a happier note, on racing, I see good signs of the
friendly and who had been sufficiently interested to great horses Denman and Kauto Star resuming their
give up time in a hectic schedule to attend the fantastic rivalry in 2010 – and I was very happy with a
meeting from the outset. In this industry we have few jockey named Daryl Jacob, trainer Jamie Snowden and
enough political friends – however much I might all connections for a lovely horse called Knighton
share, personally, the speaker’s wish for a change of Combe at Ascot on 21st November – my friends at
Government, it is surely incumbent on office-holders Coral provided splendid hospitality and this 25-1
to be sufficiently non-partisan as to avoid outraging winner made for a great day; something I learned from
those of an opposite viewpoint. We must always try my racing grandfather – in a long race, look for a horse
actively to cultivate and encourage the friendship of that has proved it definitely “gets the trip”!
14 JANUARY 2010
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