Coinslot spent an afternoon talking to Sir Peter Bottomley MP during a Bacta event at Worthing’s Connaught Leisure recently. The veteran Tory parliamentarian and former government department PPS was a primary mover in the campaign to curb FOBTs. But there was more to his position than political posturing – this seaside MP understood the damage that the fixed odds debate was having on Britain’s amusements industry.
“I don’t believe it, I’ve actually met a Tory MP I like!”
So spoke a Coinslot reporter, an ardent labour party member, during a recent Bacta event commemorating the coin-op industry’s social responsibility commitments.
“He just spoke sense – I hate myself!”
Ah, the journalist in question hates himself anyway. But, it was a profound head-turner for a staunch labour man.
The Tory behind this revelation? Sir Peter Bottomley.
Former PPS to the Northern Ireland secretary, and with posts in the departments of employment; health and social security;and transport during a 43-year parliamentary career, Bottomley was described as a ‘maverick’ of British politics,a description actually held in high esteem both in and outside of Parliament, and one that more than likely drove his unstinting defence of human rights.
The Tory MP for Worthing West has been at the vanguard of the recent campaign to address the issue of FOBTs. And in this commitment, he drew in the entire political spectrum to stand alongside him.
Bottomley ran a tireless campaign during the Triennial Review, and it was one he was dedicated to – not because of an anti-gambling crusade, but because he viewed FOBTs as destroying the entire landscape of British amusements and gaming per se.
“The most important part of social responsibility,” he told Coinslot, “is people should enjoy going to a space of entertainment and want to come back with their grandmother and their grandchildren. That’s the real test, not the type of place you sneak into with your collar up and dark glasses on.”
Bottomley is a supporter of the traditions of British amusements, as he clearly would be in a constituency sitting on the south coast of England with all the traditional hallmarks of a small, tight-knit seaside community.
Among his constituents are Connaught Leisure, an amusements gem on Worthing’s Marine Parade.
Bottomley is a fan.
“I think Connaught Leisure and places like it round the country, whether at the coast or inland, give people an opportunity of passing some time, having a bit of chat and not losing money they can’t afford,” he warmed.“ So if the industry can get people to come along and meet the standard they set for themselves, that’s great. It’s meeting the standards they set for themselves which is the legacy of Pat O’Neill,the person who created Connaught Leisure.
“He and I were at Battersea Funfair when I was about 14-years old and he was probably about 140!”
It’s easy to understand why Sir Peter Bottomley stopped a hard nosed labour voting Coinslot journalist in his tracks. He’s clearly engaging. And,as our esteemed reporter said – he didn’t talk “any bullshit”.
Industrial language, accepted – but you’ve got to give the Anglo-Saxons some credit – they knew how to convey straight talking.
But then, so does Sir Peter Bottomley. And whilst it’s far from course Anglo-Saxon, it still cuts through like a Saxon’s sword.
On FOBTs, he was unnervingly incisive. “We began to see through the arguments being put forward to maintain this terrible situation, what I would call a sewer. People were throwing their money down the drain. The fact that some of it went to the Chancellor should be irrelevant. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, if you put a tax on slavery and someone says they want to abolish slavery, but they say the treasury will lose money, that’s not an argument.”
Not an argument, indeed. But then, Bottomley was never going to accept a Treasury perspective in the debate surrounding fixed odds betting terminals. Talking to Coinslot even a few months ago, he made a defiant stand that parliament would throw out anything other than a £2 stake.
And he meant it. “As I explained to people, if I put £1,000 on one of these FOBTs, that money can’t go into repairing my house which has VAT on it; it can’t take people out for a meal or buy alcohol – which has a good contribution to the treasury – it can’t go to things which do good or provide real fun.”
And for Bottomley, that’s a lose-lose situation. “If you went into a betting shop and saw people huddled over an FOBT, they’re not talking to people, they’re not feeling happy with themselves, they’re looking miserable and even those who win put their money back until they lose. So the losers lose and the winners lose, we all lose!”
And the rest is history, or will be in around 18 months time when the £2 FOBT stake eventually kicks in. Until then,one can assume Sir Peter Bottomley will continue to be one of those politicians, even at 73-years old,who are willing to fight the good fight.
In Parliament since June 1975, he seems to have been doing that for some time now. And lately, the amusements industry has been much the better for it.