The Sketch: Nanny Jowell's spoonful of sugar turns into a poisoned chalice

Tessa Jowell was once the Nanny State's Super Nanny. She was the nation's Mary Poppins. Picture her with a parrot-headed umbrella and funny walk. Spit spot!

She reprimanded us for being too fat and admonished us for being too thin. She introduced a Bill to ban smoking advertising at sporting events. But then Bernie Ecclestone gave £1m to the Labour Party and she changed it around a bit. Tobacco ads were to be banned at sporting events ... except at generous Mr Ecclestone's race meetings. As a Health minister, Ms Jowell presented this new dimension of the Bill to her open mouthed charges. "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," she might have trilled, in counterpoint to the Prime Minister's baritone chorus of "I'm a pretty straight kind of guy ..." Ah, how young we were then, and how we believed. How we wanted to believe. Happy days.

What? No, I'm not! Where was I? Yesterday, Tessa Jowell, as Secretary of State for Culture, presented us with the second reading of the Gambling Bill. A Tory asked her to say whether Lord Levy (Labour's fund-raiser) had discussed the terms of the Bill with the American mega-gambling multi-magnates, when he met them recently.

She said something you may not believe. "No," she said. Then sack him, you heckle? That used to be called cynicism. Later she claimed: "There have been no inducements!" Seven years ago we would have accepted her word. You see figures being bandied about of £100m spent by American gambling operators on their lobbying efforts. Who knows? That would be a justifiable "investment" (not a term the Government fully understands).

Compared with her suave performance on the radio, poor Ms Jowell is a weak parliamentary performer. Sometimes this is for creditable reasons. She wants to answer the questions put to her, so she gets bogged down because her answers merely raise more questions. Au fond, her trouble is she's too obedient. She does what she's told, and this puts her in impossible positions. This introduction of super casinos is all about protecting the vulnerable? Only Tony can pull that off.

"Was this Bill in our manifesto?" Kate Hoey asked from the Labour back bench. The Secretary of State paused and stammered. "No is the word you're looking for!" someone shouted, unkindly. "How many residents of South Norwood have approached her and asked her for a super casino?" someone else demanded. Geraldine Smith described her proposals as "the nanny state gone mad".

And when challenged on her assertion that the new casinos would be "revenue neutral" (implying a massive reduction in gambling tax), she said: "It was, it was, it was, ah ... an error. It was a term, ah, in common use which was misunderstood." A hundred million times.

No, the real reason for bringing in this Bill, she claimed, was the fact that "millions of people are at risk". Hmm. She is, for one.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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