Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

According to Wikipediathe phrase Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is a generic name used in England for a person, usually with strongly conservative political views, who writes letters to newspapers in a tone of moral outrage”. It occurs to me that my own local newspaper, Southend Echo, feature such letters on a regular basis and these are often written by the same few, who one is sometimes tempted to imagine have nothing else better to do with their time.

I confess, I occasionally write such letters, but I try to keep my powder dry and not lose focus on doing things that practically help the community. When there is a matter of moral outrage where I would like to give vent to my feelings, I try to choose the times and means for maximum effect, i.e. in order to get something done, which I feel needs to be done, even if it is a compromise solution.

When I saw a report in the Southend Echo, 1/8/14, with the headline “£6m new casino will bring boom to seafront, which concerned the soon to open casino in Southend’s land mark Palace Hotel, I ummed and arred as to whether I should write such a letter, given I had written more than once on similar subjects over the years and this was likely a done deal. Given the support for this move by certain prominent persons in the town, who I hoped better off, I decided on balance I should proceed. This is what I wrote:

“According to the Echo headline (1/8) “£6m new casino will bring boom to seafront”. Says who? Well quite an elite crowd it seems: James Duddridge MP, Graham Longley (Deputy Council Leader), and Paul Thompson (Chairman of Southend Seafront Trader’s Association), to name but three.

Despite public protests over the years that casinos may not be such a good thing, the powers that be persist in promoting the idea. It seems the new administration is as bad as the old one, who oversaw an increase in town centre betting shops. I have no doubt the casino owners will benefit, with some jobs created and some much needed cash being put back into the local economy as a result, but boom I doubt.

Sadly, those who applaud the idea overlook the misery caused by problem gambling, which despite protestations to the contrary casinos do not prevent. Whatever economic gain there may be will be more than offset by the social costs. Surely there has to be a better way to bring boom to seafront?”

I wait to see if this does get printed, although the newspaper usually does print what I write, for which I am grateful, even if they often do prudent editing in the interests of succinctness, and then see what reaction there is, if any. My hope is that it will make people think what is best for Southend and act accordingly. I do concede some of the hoped for economic benefits for the town may materialize, at least in the short term, and have no doubt the business will be well run, will make some effort to discourage problem gamblers (although I doubt this will be enough) and will show generosity to the local community. Also many, maybe most, who visit the casino can expect to have a good experience, at least on par with what might be expected from many other forms of entertainment.

But my concerns are twofold. Firstly, when I campaigned against the super-casino idea some years back, it was not just on moral grounds but it was also based on an argument that the evidence points to the economic costs of the collateral damage of gambling being more than the economic gains, and these need to be weighed. People do become addicted to all sorts of things and, as those who engage with such people know, the effects can be devastating. It is unrealistic to remove temptation altogether, but a measure of control to help reduce the all too real and widespread damage seems reasonable.

Secondly, there is a moral argument and it begs the question whether the new casino will “bring boom to the seafront”. To quote William Temple (1881-1944), Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-1944): “Gambling challenges that view of life which the Christian Church exists to uphold and extend. Its glorification of mere chance is a denial of the Divine order of nature. To risk money haphazard is to disregard the insistence of the Church in every age of living faith that possessions are a trust, and that men must account to God for their use. The persistent appeal to covetousness is fundamentally opposed to the unselfishness which was taught by Jesus Christ and by the New Testament as a whole. The attempt (inseparable from gambling) to make a profit out of the inevitable loss and possible suffering of others is the antithesis of that love of one’s neighbour on which our Lord insisted.

It appears rather pernicious and short sighted that our civic leaders should want to build an economy based around something that perpetuates hard to measure but all too real human misery. Adding to the local government coffers, while taking more from the central government welfare pot, is no solution if working for the common good. Seventy years on, our society has drifted a long way from the Christian consensus held in Temple’s day, but the issues haven’t changed. As enticing as the prospect may be of drawing in quick cash into the town that is desperately needed, it must not be at any cost, and there must be a better way to bring boom to the seafront!

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