This government are unravelling 160 years of advancement

28th January, 2011 4:18 pm

StudentBy Lisa Nandy MP / @lisanandy

With so much happening it’s hard not to be distracted into spending too much time on issues considered important in the closed world of Whitehall and Westminster, which too often don’t chime with the concerns of people in Wigan. My constituency mailbag can be a good indicator of where to focus, though there is a risk of focusing on those who shout the loudest.

This month, with jobs, homes and public services under threat I was struck by the volume of correspondence about the closure of public libraries – of major concern to people right across the age range and income scale.

I responded this week by initiating a Westminster Hall debate on the future of public libraries. With an estimated 400 currently under threat, and the final number of closures predicted to run into thousands, it is easy to see why people are worried. Worse still, communities are being pitted against each other to try to save their own libraries. In Wigan the library service is being cut by £1.1m as part of a staggering £55m budget cut, and all 18 libraries are currently under consideration. It is just typical of this government that they have caused such strife under the banner of the Big Society.

The minister Ed Vaizey argues local authorities can choose to keep libraries open – either by running them without infrastructure or librarians, or by cutting spending elsewhere. With budget cuts of such magnitude, frontloaded so allowing no time to find ‘efficiency savings’, his argument is entirely disingenuous.

Many of the Tories spent the debate accusing Labour of playing politics but the roots of this go far beyond the current party political divisions. The Liberals fought hard to establish free public libraries, against their Tory opponents who, amongst other things, thought free public libraries might ‘agitate’ the working classes. It is ironic then that a Liberal-Tory coalition is presiding over the destruction of free public libraries, unravelling 160 years of advancement in the process.

Perhaps it didn’t help my case that I pointed out to the minister that Marx and Engels researched part of the Communist Manifesto in Manchester, in one of the oldest free libraries in the English speaking world, or that on opening Manchester Central Reference Library the Tory politician Edward Bulwer Lytton said ‘books are weapons, whether for war or self-defence’. Regardless, Mr Vaizey was clearly rattled and I hope those of his Tory and Liberal colleagues with a social conscience will privately press him on this.

If they won’t, this week I met just the group who will. On Monday Civitas brought a group of six and seven year old girls into parliament as part of a scheme trying to encourage more girls to become involved in politics. It was chaotic, exhausting and exhilarating trying to keep up with the raft of questions, and the laws they wanted me to pass.

Amongst the highlights were: free taxis when you go to the supermarket with your mum if it’s raining, free haircuts because it’s not fair that some people can’t afford them, and free tuition fees because they all wanted to go to university but thought the cost was frightening.

When we asked them how this would work, one girl patiently explained to me that she was going to learn how to be a hairdresser so she could cut people’s hair for free if they couldn’t afford it. The thread running through their manifesto might be handily summed up by the phrase: ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’, a line from one of Marx’s later texts and one that might not have been written without the existence of libraries.

Latest

  • Comment Featured Corbyn’s support among Labour members looks fragile, a leading pollster writes

    Corbyn’s support among Labour members looks fragile, a leading pollster writes

    Barack Obama and Bill de Blasio are just two of the long list of outsiders who have won primaries having polled around single digits. Ed Miliband went from little-known outsider to Labour leader. In May 2015, Jeremy Corbyn scored 1 per cent in a poll of Labour members. As I write, he is still leader of the Labour party. This pattern recommends a cautious reading of yesterday’s Times/YouGov poll of Labour members. In particular, it suggests that the poll tells […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Momentum set to mobilise thousands to back Corbyn this weekend

    Momentum set to mobilise thousands to back Corbyn this weekend

    Corbynite pressure group Momentum is expected to muster thousands of activists in a series of emergency rallies to counter what it describes as the “deeply undemocratic” efforts to oust Jeremy Corbyn. In response to the no confidence vote earlier this week, the left-wing faction has organised rallies and events in order to demonstrate grassroots support for Corbyn, as well as his anti-war and anti-austerity policies. Protests have been planned in Manchester, Liverpool, Exeter, Plymouth, Penzance for the weekend, as well as emergency meetings to bring together […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News McDonnell: Rebels’ leadership bid will land in the “next few days”

    McDonnell: Rebels’ leadership bid will land in the “next few days”

      John McDonnell today confirmed expectations that Jeremy Corbyn would face a leadership election in the “next few days” as he used a Brexit speech to highlight the imminent “end” of freedom of movement. The shadow Chancellor repeated his vow never to stand as Labour leader and struck a relaxed tone, after a week of turmoil, as he told backbench MPs to “calm down”. McDonnell, a longstanding ally of Corbyn, confirmed he would chair his friend’s campaign once again as expectations […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Scotland Dugdale and Khan join forces to protect jobs after Brexit vote

    Dugdale and Khan join forces to protect jobs after Brexit vote

    Sadiq Khan and Kezia Dugdale today vowed to work together to protect London and Scotland from an economic hit after the Brexit vote. In a move drawing together the two areas of the UK which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union – as well as Northern Ireland – the pair developed plans for how both economies could withstand the economic turmoil of leaving the EU. The politicians are expected to stay in regular contact throughout the Brexit negotiations […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Alison McGovern: We may have a Brexit hangover but now is the time to listen to Labour’s local leaders

    Alison McGovern: We may have a Brexit hangover but now is the time to listen to Labour’s local leaders

    Politics and government are different activities and while the corridors of power are buzzing with the former, the latter is in short supply. Westminster at the moment is in a state of paralysis, poleaxed by a referendum result that few wanted and even fewer predicted. But across the rest of the country, the show goes on. It is notable the first off the blocks in response to Brexit were leaders of devolved administrations, in Scotland, Wales and London. While Westminster […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit