Alan Dee: New health lottery leaves me feeling queasy

DECISIONS, decisions – which of the many flapping fish in my particular barrel should I be aiming at this week?

There are just too many targets to choose from, so forgive me for a moment’s indecision.

The smokers who wheezed in fury the other week when I gently suggested that government-licensed snipers might help bring home the reality of that ‘smoking kills’ message on the side of every packet they buy could probably be prodded a bit more, now that it has become illegal to sell cigarettes through vending machines. Another nail in the coffin there, but then they’ll know all about that.

And the coalition government’s craven and cynical nod to the selfish and sloppy, flagging up the possibility that weekly bin collections might once again return to our streets even though local authorities are desperate to cling on to anything that saves them a few quid, seems worth considering. While we’re at it, let’s return to those convenient open sewers that used to be such a charming feature of city life, and so handy for the disposal of household waste.

But on consideration, there’s one thing that’s really got my goat this week – step forward, the Health Lottery.

Now I have to admit that I hadn’t even realised that this new way of separating mugs from their money with a sugar-coating of charity contribution was even on the drawing board before two national newspapers, faced with all that was going on in the world, chose to make it their front page story on the same day last week.

There is, of course, no suggestion that as these two newspapers are owned by the man behind this sorry scheme there was pressure brought to bear to bend the news agenda in his favour.

However, if you are still, for some reason, a reader of the Daily Express or the Daily Star it’s time to accept that both titles are fatally compromised as newspapers and you’ll just have to get your Diana conspiracy theories and half-baked reporting about benefits cheats, cancer cures, pensions time bombs and the weather from other sources.

And where will we learn about the winners each week? On Channel 5, the TV channel which is also owned by Richard Desmond, starting this Saturday.

Whether Mr Desmond will also arrange for widespread coverage of this venture to appear in the pornographic outlets which also form part of his publishing empire remains to be seen.

There’s no denying that Mr Desmond is a big hitter in charity circles, because he keeps telling us so in his papers, and he’s promising to raise £50million to support ‘health causes’. Good on him, right?

But only 20p from every £1 staked will go to these causes compared to the 28p charity share from the National Lottery, which itself has never struck me as over-generous.

And Mr Desmond is a hard-headed businessman. Nothing wrong with that, but it will be hard to convince me that he is doing this entirely out of the goodness of his heart.

If you’ve got a quid to spare and you fancy a flutter while helping a health cause, buy yourself a hospice lottery ticket. The prizes aren’t as big, I grant you, but at least you’ll know where your money is going.