Editor-At-Large: A Good Friday bet is the oddest way yet to erase child poverty

The Government is big on ideas such as freedom and choice, but these have only pushed the working classes further into debt
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The Independent Online

An early Easter, and this year is special because the most sacred religious festival in the Christian calendar sees a new extension to our human rights. New legislation gave us the right to walk into a betting shop and lose money on Good Friday – one of only three days in the entire year when there's no horse racing.

A spokesman from Ladbrokes claimed that shops opened to "meet customer demand". I wondered what kind of sad soak needed to get up on a bank holiday, drag on their clothes, and go and place a £5 each-way bet on dog racing in Florida to make their life complete. Probably the same important type of voter that Labour is giving the chance to have a new casino in their neighbourhood – some of the most socially deprived areas of the country.

William Hill claimed it was opening 210 shops on Good Friday because "our first responsibility is to the 15,000 people who work for us". Don't tell me that those employees wouldn't have enjoyed a day off.

This Government is big on buzzwords like "choice" and "freedom" – but most of these new freedoms have resulted in a working class deeper in debt and poorer than ever. Child poverty targets are nowhere near being met, the gap between the rich and poor as large as ever, and personal debt at an all-time high.

Take the Lottery – a brilliant example of a tax on the poorest members of society, most tickets bought by those who can least afford it. The worthies who administer Lottery funds can proudly list the wonderful projects it supports, but increasingly the Lottery pays for education and health projects that should have been funded through central government – and could be if the Government reduced the number of consultants it employs to review every big idea before a watered-down version of it is put into practice.

Extending licensing hours is another fine example of more personal freedom. Binge drinking has increased; our young people drink more than their counterparts in Europe, and hospitals are overwhelmed with alcohol-related injuries. Was this really a freedom worth legislating for? Who will be most affected by Alistair Darling raising tax on booze in the last Budget? Not the middle classes – but the poor, who will simply buy less food and drink the same amount.

Another great freedom – the choice of selecting your energy supplier – is completely worthless, with prices increasing by more than 10 per cent so far this year, inflicting more pain on family finances. Again, the proportion of income the poorest spend on heat and light is far higher than that spent by the middle classes.

More freedoms promised by Gordon and co: the chance to choose where you receive NHS treatment. Last week's announcement was of the opportunity to get treated at hospitals funded by businesses like McDonald's.

The concept of choice in health care is worthless if it entails getting treated on the other side of Britain. What's the point of getting a hip replacement in Scunthorpe or Devizes if we have to splash out on train fares and pay for hotels for partners to visit? Why will hospitals be better administered by people who normally run engineering or burger companies? How does that expertise translate to a service that responds to human need and not the need to reward shareholders?

Privatising the railways – which Labour refused to reverse – led to Mickey Mouse fines for companies that didn't deliver, and those increasingly large fines just get passed on to one group: passengers. I haven't noticed CEOs losing their bonuses, or getting the boot.

Finally, now we've been granted the "freedom" to choose the secondary school we want for our kids – but no guarantee of achieving that first choice – the result? One in five children is disappointed, and thousands of parents are angry and frustrated. And a schools minister who tells teachers he can't see anything wrong in classes of 70 being taught maths.

The reality of this Government's ideas of freedom and choice is that they are middle-class concepts that haven't really turned out to enrich people's lives in a meaningful way. Living near the breadline, the impetus is to feed, clothe and educate your family. The only freedom you want is freedom from debt, not another chance to place a bet. Warped values?

The hooker chic Babygro just won't wash

Tom Ford is obsessed with presenting the right image – always scrupulously careful to be photographed at exactly the same angle, minimising his receding hairline and maximising his buffed torso. After a hugely successful period as creative director at Gucci, where his trademark "hooker chic" clothes revitalised the brand, he didn't manage to launch himself in his next career, in the movies. Now his expanding empire includes ludicrously expensive menswear, fragrances and chunky sunglasses, but it seems there's one thing missing: a baby. Tom and his partner, fashion journalist Richard Buckley, are searching for a suitable mother to carry a child fathered by Tom.

Tom's advertising features semi-naked men and women sprawled about looking as if they've just had wild sex. The idea of Tom Ford bringing up a child in an environment where he will have designed the cot, the playroom, the towels and the nappies, not to mention the Babygro and the feeding bowl, is rather spooky. Gay men can make great dads, but they do have to be ready to be dribbled on. Will Tom give up those trademark tight jackets and ties?

The Mayor a friend of Gordon? No Ken do

It's the hot new affair that political pundits thought would never happen: an orgy of romance between Ken Livingstone and Gordon Brown. Last week the Prime Minister formally endorsed Ken's campaign to be re-elected as Mayor of London.

Clearly, the ending of the eight-year feud – the two men are well known to loathe each other – has only come about as opinion polls continue to put the Tory candidate Boris Johnson 12 points ahead, and many leading Londoners say they will vote for "anyone but Ken". Only last January, Gordon couldn't bring himself to utter Ken's name, talking about the need for a "Labour mayor" through gritted teeth.

One blog noted, after searching through 19 years of Hansard records, that Gordon Brown has never mentioned Ken Livingstone by name. In 2000 Gordon told us not to vote for Ken as he was "anti-jobs and anti-business". In 1999 he slagged off Ken's plans for the Tube and Ken went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to block Gordon's plans for part-privatisation of the service.

And yet, faced with the real possibility of an electoral disaster, party chiefs managed the unthinkable. Last week Gordon stood on a platform alongside Ken and called him "an inspirational figure... a crusading mayor... a man who has made a huge difference... who has dedicated his life to London".

Gordon even wrote a newspaper article in which he claimed that Ken's commitment had transformed London's transport system. Is it any surprise that politicians' standing with the public is currently running at rock bottom? Does Gordon really expect us to believe a word of this bilge?

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