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Betting, vaping and now driving... there is a merciless war on working Britons (and they’ve had enough)


SEVERAL months ago representatives of the tobacco industry were summoned to the Department of Health to address Ministers’ concerns over single-use vapes. ‘Officials told us we were targeting kids,’ one attendee explained. ‘They said they were worried about specific flavours. And they were considering drawing up a list of those they wanted banned. Someone asked, “Ministers are thinking about selecting which flavours people can legally vape?” And the official replied, “Yes.”’

Just weeks later, members of the betting industry attended a separate meeting with the Gambling Commission. The commissioners had decided to introduce ‘affordability checks’ for vulnerable gamblers.

‘We asked how they planned to determine who was and wasn’t vulnerable,’ a representative of the racing industry told me, ‘and they said, “Payslips. Bank accounts. Geodemographic data.” We asked what they meant by geodemographic data and they told us, “Looking at someone’s postcode and the kind of area they live in.”’

Around the same time London Mayor Sadiq Khan was sitting down with a journalist from the website MyLondon to discuss his plans for extending road-charging beyond the controversial Ultra Low Emission Zone.

‘The ultimate destination is a smart road user charging scheme,’ Khan revealed. ‘What we want is a scheme that can treat each driver differently in relation to the time they are driving, the distance they are driving and if there are good alternatives with public transport and how polluting their vehicle is.’

A number of things connect these disparate meetings. Most obvious is the attempt to regulate and penalise what until recently were entirely legal and socially acceptable activities. Vaping was originally hailed as freeing people from the smoking curse. State-franchised gambling was introduced with much fanfare in 1994. In his 2021 election manifesto, Khan lambasted his rival Tories for attempting to extend London’s congestion charge to the capital’s North and South Circular Roads and boasted: ‘I stood firm and stopped these.’

Another factor is the insidious nature of the proposed restrictions: creeping controls that skirt outright prohibition but trap people in an increasingly Kafkaesque labyrinth of levies and regulations.

BUT there is one more significant constant: how all of these regulatory interventions represent the latest front in an undeclared but increasingly merciless war on working-class Britain.

Take vaping. A 2022 survey found 9.5 per cent of those classified in social classes C2DE were vapers, compared to 7.3 per cent of those in class ABC1. A separate survey found those within the lowest social class E were twice as likely to vape as those in category AB.

Gambling? Though 46 per cent of people bet annually, the figure is 50 per cent among working classes. Excluding the National Lottery, betting is highest among the middling third quartile of the The Index of Multiple Deprivation measure (which looks at income, employment, education, health, crime, housing and environment). In the North East, 60 per cent of adults have an annual flutter. In London, it’s 44 per cent.

The extent to which ULEZ represents a regressive assault on workers in no longer even politically contested. Speaking at last week’s TUC conference – not exactly a hottax bed of neo-conservative insurgency – GMB union general secretary Gary Smith declared candidly: ‘I listen to delivery drivers; to others doing deliveries in city centres; to people on shifts; to NHS care workers – and many of them are concerned that ULEZ and the way it’s been introduced could put extra financial burden on them.’

It doesn’t matter whether it is politicians from the Left or Right. Wherever the dead regulatory hand falls, it is invariably working people who are pinned beneath it.

Inevitably, these punitive attacks are framed as a benign paternalism. ‘Smoking, problem gambling and air pollution disproportionately affect poorer communities and we cannot just stand back’, we are told.

Correct. So why not engage with those communities, rather than talk down at them? Before deploying the and regulatory systems to punch down on them. There are two disturbing assumptions underpinning the renewed zeal with which our governing class is pursuing its current brand of Missionary Politics.

The first is that simply informing working class communities about the health and social risks facing them is insufficient. They are – and let’s be blunt – deemed too stupid to understand. The second is that even if they do understand, they cannot be trusted to take decisions in their best interests. Or – and let’s be equally blunt – what middle-class politicians, regulators and academics have decided is in their best interests. Either way, the strategy is clear. ‘We must save the workers from themselves.’ The problem is those pesky workers are starting to wise up.

Take the backlash against ULEZ. Just as Khan was putting the finishing touches to extending the zone, a report was published by Greenpeace showing the UK had become the busiest private jet destination in Europe. In 2022, the number of private jets taking off from this country had increased by 75 per cent – more than 90,000 flights pumping out half a million tons of CO2.

The working classes are not Neanderthals. They have no greater desire than anyone else to see their planet burn or their children choked to death by pollution. But they’re no longer going to be taken for mugs either. They won’t accept further lectures on how they must ditch their 2005 Honda Civic to save the environment, while Gulfstream jets swoop overhead.

Working Britain has had enough of paying endlessly to subsidise the puritanical fashions and fancies of Oxbridge-educated Ministers, think-tank gurus and do-gooders.

In 2021, the opinion pollsters Public First conducted a focus group on behalf of the Betting and Gaming Council on the attitude of gamblers to proposed regulation. One respondent from Doncaster said: ‘I like betting, it’s part of my week. I work hard, and at the end of the week, yeah, I might spend more than I should on betting and drinking, but so what? It’s my money.’

We hear a lot about the dangerous estrangement between those who govern and the governed. How discontent with politicians festers and begins to eat away at the timbers supporting our democracy.

Well, this is where it comes from. Working people know full well what ‘financial vulnerability checks’ mean. It means pricing them out of a pastime they enjoy.

They know what a ‘smart road user charging scheme’ is really all about. It’s about forcing them off the roads and on to a creaking public transport system, so that driving can become the preserve of a wealthy elite.

They understand that whenever a new ‘progressive policy’ is unveiled, they’ll be the ones footing the bill.

Where is a White Paper proposing a crackdown on Chelsea Tractors? Or the concerted Ministerial push on white-collar cocaine abuse?

Nowhere. Because our political class has no interest in regulating or penalising itself. And Britain’s working classes recognise it. They can see how the same government that is pledging to push ahead with plans to combat the social evils of soft drinks and fast food has quietly shelved its proposed ban on the importation of furs and foie gras.

Last week, Ministers conceded nationalising the flavour of vapes was unworkable. Instead, they banned cheap, disposable vapes completely. Then presumably sat back, lit a cigar, and congratulated themselves on a job well done.

China In The Dock




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