How stupid do they think I am?

February 9th 2007

My wife and I went to see Rich Hall at the Leeds City Varieties after fighting our way through the snow storm of the century (actually a bit of sleeting but the media coverage this weather front attracted was just preposterous). The City Varieties is an old fashioned theatre tucked away behind some concrete and glass shop fronts in the city centre. As we took our seats we could look round the building and see it was in desperate need of a refurbishment. My wife said it must be over twenty years since she was last in it and nothing seemed to have changed apart perhaps from the layer of grime being a bit thicker.

Rich did his adequate routine (in future more ire please Rich) and at the end he remembered he had to make an announcement. He got out his bit of paper and read out that the theatre had got lottery funding to refurbish the place but that they needed to collect a million pounds or something to activate it. We were then asked to dig deep and give money on our way out.

I did no such thing of course. It didn’t make any sense to me. The theatre is a commercial enterprise. It puts shows on with the intention of making a profit. If it is successful it makes a lot of profit and so can upgrade its facilities if it cares to. If it doesn’t make a profit it goes out of business and is bought by a property developer.

Let’s leave aside the sentimentality of the quaint old theatre in the city centre for a moment and consider another business.

Let’s say Chelsea football club want to refurbish their stadium. They get lottery approval but have to raise ten million pounds themselves. The billionaire owner of the club doesn’t want to spend any more money because the club is already in the red. The players, on six million pounds a year each, don’t see why they should contribute, after all, the punters come to see them, not the other way around. So it is the punters who are asked to subsidize a loss making business, owned by a billionaire who would like to make a profit so he can buy another expropriated oil field or whatever. Presumably, when the stadium is refurbished, it will still be owned by the billionaire and because it is now a great facility he can increase the entrance fee to the punters who watch the matches played in it. This is like improving your home out of your own pocket then the council saying, “Nice place, we will charge you more for living in it.” (I’m being ironic here people).

This is the principle at work. How stupid do they think I am?

But wait, it gets worse. The people leaving the theatre were under the impression that their one pound would be matched generously by the lottery fund, as if the ‘lottery fund’ was some kind of eccentric old philanthropist giving money away because it had become meaningless to them. The thing people forget to ask is ‘where does this lottery money come from?’

Hey, you’re a genius, you worked it out – the lottery of course. And who puts the money into the lottery in the first place? The poor suckers who can least afford it but dream the most of a big win. The vast majority of these people are unlikely to ever see the inside of a theatre nor enjoy its productions.

The lottery is a profit making business; Camelot, who run the lottery, don’t just do it for the thanks they get. Who is paying for all this? The punters. They pay for everything. And they are being asked to pay again. Probably ninety percent of that theatre audience has bought a lottery ticket at some time, so the lottery money is their money as well. I’m surprised the theatre doesn’t ask its customers to volunteer their time as well in scrubbing the walls (but bring your own brushes).

I won’t even start with scam they have going in opera. I would burst a blood vessel just thinking about it.

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