Welcome to the News desk.
|Brown U-turn over plan for supercasino
| Tania Branigan
and Patrick Wintour
Gordon Brown yesterday tore up Blairite plans for
a supercasino based in Manchester, breaking with his predecessor and
reasserting Labour's moral stance in the face of the Conservative focus on
family values and the "broken society".
The prime minister chose to
overshadow his own presentation of the legislative programme by telling
parliament that regeneration might be "a better way of meeting [the] economic
and social needs" of deprived areas than a Las Vegas-style casino. Whitehall
sources later acknowledged that the controversial plans were "dead in the
His abrupt announcement was greeted with delight by
anti-gambling campaigners, but with fury from MPs and businesses in the
north-west, who questioned why the government had changed its mind at such a
late stage. They complained that the belated decision had wasted time and
money, and dashed hopes of bringing up to £200m investment and as many as
2,700 jobs to the deprived area of east Manchester.
MPs originally backed the
idea of creating 17 new casinos. But growing concerns about the impact of the
largest one, and anger when Manchester, rather than Blackpool, was chosen as
its site, led to a startling but narrow defeat for the plans in the House of
Lords in March. Tessa Jowell, the then culture secretary, insisted that the
plans were "very much alive", while Tony Blair expressed anger at the Lords'
decision and warned critics that continuing to oppose them would stop
regeneration, not gambling.
Yesterday it became clear that Mr Brown
intends to drop the largest venue, while proceeding with the other 16. He has
never been an enthusiast for gambling and raised the top rate of gaming duty to
50% in the budget.
"He's all right about smaller casinos, but I don't
think he [ever] liked the idea of this larger one," said one minister.
But the timing of Mr Brown's remarks raised eyebrows in Westminster.
His spokesman said the prime minister had not discussed it with the cabinet,
but had agreed a position with the new culture secretary, James Purnell.
Mr Brown appeared to have pushed forward the announcement to regain
ground after Tory proposals to treat married couples more favourably in the tax
system were given a warm reception by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.
On a day which began with Mr Brown telling the BBC that he was "the son
of a Church of Scotland minister", it prompted speculation that he was seeking
to re-focus attention on Labour's own values. It is understood that he
attempted to contact the leader of Manchester City Council before making his
comments in the house but was not able to reach him.
Asked by the
Labour backbencher Andy Reed whether he would reconsider supercasinos, Mr Brown
told MPs: "This is an issue on which there is no consensus found in the two
houses of parliament. And it is an issue now subject to reflection over the
next few months. In September we will have a report that will look at gambling
in our country - the incidence and prevalence of it and the social effects of
"I hope that during these summer months we can look at whether
regeneration in the areas for the supercasinos may be a better way of meeting
their economic and social needs than the creation of supercasinos."
Whitehall sources said there was virtually no prospect of the regional
casino going ahead.
Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, said:
"This raises serious questions about Gordon Brown's credibility ... We know how
much influence Brown had under Tony Blair's government - why didn't he say
Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, and
Gordon Marsden, an MP for Blackpool, which had still hoped it might get a
supercasino, vowed to carry on fighting and demanded a meeting with the prime
minister and culture secretary.
Mr Stringer attacked the "weak and
bad" decision, telling BBC Radio 4: "The idea that Manchester City Council
haven't thought of all the possible ways to regenerate east Manchester is,
quite frankly, insulting. Unless the government is going to replace that level
of investment ... nothing is going to happen in one of the most deprived parts
of this country."
Manchester's chamber of commerce said the
announcement was "devastating" and "an awful lot of time and money [had been]
wasted". But Sir Richard Leese, leader of the city council, said the council
would continue to push for a casino.
A Salvation Army spokesman
welcomed Mr Brown's statement, adding: "[We have] always maintained that
increasing opportunities to gamble may have a long-term detrimental effect on
individuals and communities and that better ways need to be found to regenerate
A supercasino would have had up to 1,250 gaming machines, with
unlimited stakes and prize money, whereas the large casinos introduced under
the government plans would have only 150 machines, with top stakes of £2
and prizes of £4,000.