Opinion: Jowell pays the price of casino fiasco

Who would have thought that a relatively simple bill to tighten up gambling legislation and allow a few big casinos to be built could generate such hostility? The fact is that someone in the Government should have seen it coming.

The big problem is that the legislation is being proposed by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and its PR office has no clout. Nothing could signal this more starkly than sports minister Richard Caborn being told by Number 10 to come home from Australia for a vote, thereby missing England's Rugby World Cup triumph.

Department chief Tessa Jowell is one of the nicest politicians I've ever met but her love for the PM is now her biggest weakness, and she's been left to hang out to dry by Cabinet colleagues eager to see the demise of one of his strongest supporters.

The number-one rule for any ministry is 'don't upset the Treasury' - and this has been spectacularly broken by Jowell. She has let speculation flourish that Gordon Brown would be prepared to cut betting tax for the new casinos. This may well be the case - after all, the Chancellor did scrap horserace-betting tax, but this is for the Treasury to decide. To get Brown and the Treasury against you on this one is some feat, especially as it was the Treasury that wanted to relax the casino laws in the first place.

The number-two rule is don't get the Daily Mail and The Sun against you at the same time. The Mail was always a lost cause but if Jowell had made it clear from day one that the proposal was only for a few casinos then The Sun may have been won over.

The papers have been making all the running on the proposed bill, so much so that the Mail has already claimed a victory over 'Labour's retreat over super-casinos'. This is on the basis that Jowell, too late in the day, made it clear that the number of new casinos was more like 20 than 200.

Tony Blair's hands aren't clean in this fiasco either. Where there is money involved you know that Number 10 will not be far away from the crime.

It has emerged that the PM's mate and Labour fund raiser Lord Levy held a meeting with US casino boss Lloyd Nathan in the summer.

What should be the final nail in the coffin of this bill was Jowell's claim that those who opposed it were being 'snobbish'.

So Jowell thinks John Prescott, who also has reservations about the bill,is a snob.

The selling of the casino bill will go down as one of the biggest PR disasters in this parliament, but don't expect Blair to back down. Jowell is one of the few friends he has left.

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