Now the latest on the Politicians Keeping In Touch front. It’s funny how it’s the wives who take the brunt of the endeavour. It was Samantha Cameron yesterday who had to parade at the Tory party conference in a teal £42 polyester dress from Asos.com…no question, then, of Mr Cameron being asked to take a turn in an M&S suit. Alas, Mrs C did what every sensible person does who has to wear something from Asos or Florence and Fred (and may I say, given their modest cut when it comes to fabric only skinnies can carry this off) and replaced their belt with one of her own. It was a matter of minutes before the eagle-eyed girls in the fashion departments of our finest newspapers outed this slim black number as from Emilia Wickstead, retailing at £196. Which may or may not cancel out the fact her shoes came from TopShop. Funny that: Miriam Clegg wore TopShop shoes too for her husband’s big day, only with a Zara dress – so in touch!
How things change: it seems like only yesterday that Sarah Brown and Sam Cam were doing their bit at party conference in chic pieces from Erdem or Rifat Ozbek — Turkish-British designers who emphatically do not retail for £42. One can only hope that Asos doesn’t turn out to be one of those companies that contract out their manufacturing to companies in countries with below-par working conditions, because that wouldn’t be a good look at all.
We’ve already put politicians — the London Mayor, the PM, the Deputy PM — through their paces on the usual questions of how much a pint of milk costs (depends whether you’re buying organic) and how much a value loaf is (and is there anyone who actually thinks that Samantha Cameron is going to be eating carbs in the way of Tesco Value White Sliced?), the sole effect of which will be that they’ll send their researchers out to Sainsbury to check out these things before they get interviewed by anyone in future. But the gist of all this isn’t completely frivolous…it’s to discern whether the issue that matters to people on an average income, the rising cost of living, has registered with those who manage the economy. As I mentioned previously, people like John Major did take inflation much more seriously than ministers do now, simply because he came from a background where the cost of things mattered: he said as much quite recently.
Yet, funnily enough, one thing none of the party leaders was asked was the price of a lottery ticket, though perhaps that might have been more pertinent. That’s gone up today by 100 per cent, from one pound for a line to two. Which doesn’t really matter for players on above average incomes but which makes quite a big difference to the poorest players…and Lottery players are disproportionately drawn from those least able to afford it. (A 2008 study in the US showed the poorest players spend almost 10 per cent of their disposable income on tickets.)
Yet the proportion of prize money the National Lottery pays out is not actually increasing, at just under half its takings. Also the odds of winning the jackpot are unchanged at one in 13,983,816, though the advent of a new Lottery Raffle with £20,000 prizes means that it’s less rotten value than it would otherwise be. There has obviously been a backlash from poorer punters, at least those with access to the internet: a poll for the Daily Mirror suggests nine in 10 are angry enough to say they’ll boycott the thing as a result; they won’t, of course.
The National Lottery has been described as a tax on the poor, which makes sense only if you think of tax as a voluntary affair. But it is a form of gambling which looms especially large in the lives of the poor. As the late Auberon Waugh (a fan) observed, it is a way of bringing the element of existential hope into otherwise dreary lives. Of course, as I never tire of telling my children, you’d be better off betting on the horses — and after two visits to Leopardstown they’re shaping up nicely in that respect. But the fact is that the advertising, the propaganda, works: people really do think it could be them.
National Lottery ticket prices haven’t gone up since the inception of the thing in 1994 but inflation has, just not by 100 per cent, not quite. What you could have bought for a quid back then you pay £1.67 for now. So wouldn’t it have been fairer, kinder, to have gone for, say, a 50 per cent increase, to raise the price of a line to £1.50 instead? The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, has let it be known that she was kept closely in touch with the latest developments. Did it not occur to her to suggest to Andy Duncan, the Camelot MD, that an increase of 100 per cent was excessive? Whatever happens, the Treasury gets a cut of 12 per cent on Lottery takings – just short of £700 million in 2010/11. It wouldn’t hurt for ministers to register disquiet at the punters being so blatantly fleeced even if the proceeds do help pay for the Olympics. It would at least serve the important purpose of showing how very in touch they are.