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.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Comment The truth is that South Thanet should never have been blue – let alone in danger of turning purple

    The truth is that South Thanet should never have been blue – let alone in danger of turning purple

    There’s a lot of interest in the exact Dulux colour composition of Farage’s purple peril. We’ve already had the Ribena test, and this week a City AM piece sought to disentangle ‘red Ukip’ from ‘blue Ukip’ – the Labour component of Nigel Farage’s appeal from the Tory one. The latter article, probably unsurprisingly, concluded that red Ukip was mainly a northern phenomenon and blue Ukip predominantly southern. South Thanet, the Kent seat where I’m standing against Nigel Farage, seems at […]

    Read more →
  • Comment I hate Labour’s immigration mug – but I hate their immigration pledge even more

    I hate Labour’s immigration mug – but I hate their immigration pledge even more

    Yesterday the Labour Party put a dent in the good week they’ve been having by putting on sale a mug stamped with Labour’s promise to put “controls on immigration”.  The was rightly criticised across Twitter; some said it was pandering to Ukip while others seemed to be in disbelief that the party would even produce a piece of merchandise. However, the mug is one of a family of five, each of which are branded with one of Labour’s election pledges. In response to […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Has there been a post-debate “Milibounce”? Signs are good, but lets not get carried away

    Has there been a post-debate “Milibounce”? Signs are good, but lets not get carried away

    Here’s a Sunday Times front page that Miliband and his team will be delighted with – a four point lead with YouGov and talk of momentum for Labour: But – it’s only one poll. That’s the best and most important place to start when talking about a post-debate bounce for Labour (or a “Milibounce” as it was inevitably labelled). The only poll that has been released so far with fieldwork produced post-debate is the YouGov poll in today’s Sunday Times – […]

    Read more →
  • News 40 days to go: Alexander kicks off Labour’s campaign

    40 days to go: Alexander kicks off Labour’s campaign

    Today Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Chair of General Election Strategy, will visit marginal seat Ealing Central and Acton to mark the fact that there are 40 campaigning days left until the general election. Alexander will also visit this constituency, which Labour’s candidate Rupa Huq hopes to win from Conservative Angie Bray, to send a message that Labour have 40 policies that would make Britain better (a list of which can be found below). This ties in with Labour’s campaign slogan “A […]

    Read more →
  • Comment It’s time for the Tories to come clean on their secret £12billion plan to hit children, carers, families and disabled people

    It’s time for the Tories to come clean on their secret £12billion plan to hit children, carers, families and disabled people

    David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have repeatedly refused to explain how they would make the £12 billion cuts in social security spending that their fiscal plans for the next parliament depend on. If anyone wondered why, now  we know. Leaked documents drawn up by civil servants for Conservative ministers and reportedly discussed with Conservative officials, confirm that this extreme cuts plan would hit disabled people and their carers hard. The Tories have denied this is their plan. But the truth is […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit