Friday, 11 December 2009

Bingo or Afghanistan or Education or The NHS? Bingo, Please.

In a fairly odd Pre-Budget Report (PBR), it did not get more bizarre than the cut in tax on Bingo.

What was really odd about it was that it was so specific and announced with such gravity that it seemed every citizen in Britain would derive some benefit - hence its headline billing in the PBR. There were no free prescriptions for everyone, no free hospital parking, no extra help for working mums, no lowering of the dental fees on the NHS or boosting the availability of dentists to people. No new kit for the army, no new armoured vehicles, no new bullets for the TAs, no new police on the beat - but there was a boost for Bingo.

It is hard to believe that we are actually in financial dire straits, with a record post war budget deficit which is legally pledged in the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, farcically passed in the Queen's Speech, to halve by 2014. Here we are handing out money for people to play Bingo.

If a Martian landed on earth today and looked at the priorities of this Government they might think it odd, but if you are an earthling you would think it bizarre to the point of absurdity.
It's as if as the Titanic sank, people debated whether the Foie Gras was game enough.

Maybe I'm the daft one here - perhaps my wife and I, our immediate family and entire entourage of friends are the odd ones out in that not one single one of us has ever stepped into a bingo hall let alone played it. Maybe we are the out of date ones that don't see that the crucial mood and well being of bingo players is vital to the financial recovery, health and education of this nation. Maybe the Government knows something that I do not - maybe all bingo players are in fact mathematical maestros who underpin the design of our health system or are intelligence officers who are secretly guarding us against the growth of terrorism from within. Perhaps bingo players are capable of launching Weapons of Mass Destruction within 45 minutes and therefore this is a move to appease them.

There has to be some reason. Or is it just that John Prescott's wife plays bingo twice a week and he still has Brown by the short and curlies? Or was it a misprint in the report that Darling read out and should have said, 'Drop income tax for everyone and BINGO we win the election.'?

I haven't run the figures yet but of the £31 bn boost to spending this PBR represented I am not sure what decreasing the tax on bingo actually contributed to the bill but I am sure there must have been a corresponding multiple in benefit for the nation carefully calculated. For instance, it must outweigh the cost of one new heavily armoured vehicle sent to Afghanistan or another helicopter, or a better bullet proof vest, or some more food or even just a poster for the barracks wall that says, 'You may not think it but you boys dying in Helmand are worth more to us than people who play bingo.'

You could not make this crap up, frankly, and I apologise for my crudeness but it is the only word that describes it adequately. In the deep mire of financial mess and the blood of Helmand province, the best thought leadership of this nation came up with a 2% decrease in tax on Bingo and announced it to the country as if it was crucial to our global recovery plans.

Even Brown's cartoon character hero, Superman would have a laugh. This is a pointless Government doing pointless things at a time of crisis - Jim Callaghan and his 'Crisis? What crisis?' Government would be so proud of New Labour.

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