Gambling away Labour's principles

The understanding among Blair's allies is that he intends to announce his plans well in advance of c

When I was growing up, gambling was something that distinguished my working-class grandparents from my middle-class parents. The older generation enjoyed what they saw as a harmless flutter on the horses, while my mum and dad knew that gambling helped keep their parents poor. For them, as socialists, it was a moral principle, much as it is for the faith groups who oppose the government's decision to bring Las Vegas-style casinos to Britain.

The revelation that Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the US company hoping to develop London's Millennium Dome into a super-casino, had faked support from local Christian, Muslim and Sikh leaders shows that the industry is painfully aware of the moral objections to gambling. It also demonstrates how brazenly unprincipled it can be in its pursuit of profit. Philip Anschutz, the billionaire owner of AEG, is now so confident of winning the licence to run Britain's first super-casino that work on the Greenwich site is already well-advanced.

For this he knows he can count on the support of his house-guest John Prescott, the one genuinely working-class member of the cabinet, who has somehow allowed himself to become the cheerleader for the idea that casinos will regenerate disadvantaged parts of the country rather than further impoverish them.

The Gambling Act 2005 is the perfect example of where the government has lost its way. As in so many other areas of policy, ministers believe that if they could just get their message across (the regeneration argument, in this case) then people would believe they intended to create a better Britain. They fail to realise that an increasing number of voters have developed a moral repugnance for new Labour itself. For some, it is the gambling legislation. But for others, it is the creeping privatisation of the NHS and state school system; or the unfolding tragedy in Iraq and Tony Blair's uncritical partnership with George Bush; or the attack on civil liberties; or the increasing reliance on the super-rich for party funding.

Prime ministers, like teachers (and some political journalists), have the luxury of a lengthy summer break to recharge their batteries and prepare for the autumn term. It would be comforting to think Blair had used his time to question why so many in his own parliamentary party believe he mislaid his moral compass over Lebanon and why so many former supporters across the country believe he lost it long ago.

Decision due

I am told the PM informed those closest to him that he would use his holiday to come to a decision about the exact timing of his departure and how best to manage the announcement. Maybe he was distracted in his deliberations by events in the Middle East and the alleged terror plot to blow up airliners flying out of Heathrow.

But the understanding among Blair's allies is that he intends to announce his plans well in advance of Labour's conference in Manchester, therefore in a matter of days or weeks. Those who continue to bet on him believe it is imperative that he decides imminently, if he has not done so already. "If he leaves it any later the situation will become intolerable and it will be impossible to push through new reforms," said one loyalist, although the source recognised that it would be entirely in character if Blair put off the decision again. The plan remains that conference will become a showcase for the succession: a tribute to Blair's record as Labour leader combined with the effective coronation of Gordon Brown. No one within the party now seriously considers the possibility that the handover will happen any later than 2007.

Whatever the timing, many in Labour now argue that the government will not regain the trust of the British people without a radical reassessment of what it stands for. Some say the government has failed to "brand" its greatest successes (such as the stability of the economy) as Labour triumphs. Others contend that the party has allowed itself to become alienated from its major constituencies of support within the public sector, the business world and liberal Britain. There are even those who are still misguided enough to believe that all will be well as soon as Brown takes over.

What all these narratives fail to recognise is the level of distaste that people feel for many of this government's policies. It is not that people don't recognise the strides made since 1997 towards a more progressive and liberal society (David Cameron's reinvention as a centrist politician is the living proof of this). But for many, this has been sullied by the more unsavoury aspects of the government's record. Public relations is not the issue; this is about people taking a stand on matters of conscience and deciding they can no longer support the government. This, like the gambling tricks being played on us, is about principles.