With elections coming up again in the UK, this seems the perfect time to look back at last year’s ‘Beer & Bingo’ debate.
In March 2014, beer tax was cut by a penny, and bingo duty was slashed from 20 per cent to 10 per cent in the new budget. Grant Shapps tweeted “#budget2014 cuts bingo & beer tax helping hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy. RT to spread the word.” Needless to say, this ruffled some bingo industry feathers and resulted in a Twitter row of epic proportion! #epicfail
It went viral within minutes, including exposure from bloggers, spoofs and memes. The advert message was so unbelievable that internet users at first thought the whole thing was a hoax. The main accusations from political commentators maintained that the wording of the advert was patronising. Express.co.uk in particular exploded with criticism from writers and readers alike, decrying the notion that everyone plays bingo in their spare time. On the official Express’ Facebook page, John Chapman said: “Using the word ‘They’ instead of ‘We’ is clearly setting a line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and shows clearly that the Tories believe themselves to be above the common man and that the class system is still very much in order.
Emerging parodies included a fantastic quote from Edinburgh’s Duncan Hothersall – “I say, you there! How is your whippet? Jolly good, jolly good. Carry on,” which pretty much sums up the out of touch Tory view, stuck in the past. Darren Buckley believes “It compounds the narrative that the Conservatives have little knowledge about how people live in modern Britain.”
While we Brits do love our bingo, it seemed ridiculous to address the issue in so serious a medium as the national budget. Working class folks don’t worry about not being able to afford bingo – they worry about food, medicine, nappies, etc. British workers have suffered the longest fall in living standards since the 1870s, and the Tory offer is making pints of beer 1p cheaper and cutting bingo tax. Is that really going to solve the problem?
Some readers did defend the advert, with Rich Hayward posting: “At least it’s coming down. Under Labour everything doubled, council tax, energy bills, petrol, stupidity. They even doubled bingo tax. Nothing wrong in bringing stuff down. Cheers!!”
The bingo industry itself benefited greatly from the new budget plan, and in fact many halls and clubs were saved thanks to the tax reduction. This change to bingo duty followed a prolonged campaign by the industry and MPs from all parties. Chancellor George Osborne told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is very good that we’re letting people know that we’re helping the bingo industry which was decimated under the previous government.” You tell em’, George!
Communications consultant Tom Bage concludes “while it was clumsy, George Osborne and Grant Shapps will be betting that the gratitude of beer drinkers and bingo players will outweigh the embarrassment caused by the Tories’ social media team.”