Now I don't know about you, but I jave always enjoyed the odd game of bingo. It was about the only thing to look forward to when visiting Blackpool for a party conference!
The run-up to the Budget is always a busy time for industry lobbies and other 'special pleaders'. The Government has to weigh up competing claims for tax cuts but one which seems deserving this time around is bingo. It's a pretty harmless but popular hobby enjoyed by millions of people - the sort who Alistair Darling ought to be wooing, if he knew what was good for him.
So it strikes me as quite odd, considering all the concern of late about new casinos and internet gambling, that the Government would want to tax bingo so unfairly. Bingo is, in effect, taxed twice - through VAT and a profits tax. Harder forms of gambling are taxed nowhere near as much.
Bingo is enjoyed mainly by old ladies who see it as more of a social outing than anything else. More than 1.5 million people play bingo weekly and there are hundreds of clubs across the country. Interestingly, quite a few of these clubs are in Darling's cabinet colleagues' constituencies and also in a lot of Labour marginal seats. If bingo clubs start closing in these constituencies, don't bank on the sitting Labour MP hanging on to their seat at the next election. I understand there are many Hon. Labour members getting very windy about the issue.
Maybe the Tories ought to decide that the removal of VAT on bingo is one tax cutting policy they can get on and announce - and maybe (horror of horrors!) win some votes. Go on George. Be daring. You know you want to.