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 We must bring politics back to our communities rather than leave people to rely on Westminster “elites”

    We must bring politics back to our communities rather than leave people to rely on Westminster “elites”

    All told, it’s not been a good few months for the standing of our politicians. Whether you think there was a good case to have a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU or not, the reason we were all put through it was ultimately one of internal Conservative party management. A fundamental question about who we are as a nation and how to best represent our interests was embarked upon because David Cameron thought it was his best […]

    Read more →
  • News Kinnock: Labour must show that its socialism can “work in practice”

    Kinnock: Labour must show that its socialism can “work in practice”

    Neil Kinnock has criticised “ideological flights of fancy”, and said that Labour needs to show that socialism can “work in practice” before it can be successful. The former leader has said that winning parties have to be “professional” as well as having a “sense of belief”, and launched a strong attack on “career politicians”. “You can enchant people by ideological flights of fancy, but that’s not going to help them at all,” Lord Kinnock told BBC programme Conversations this week. He said […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Wayne David: Top-down change no longer works – we must boost democracy from the ground up

    Wayne David: Top-down change no longer works – we must boost democracy from the ground up

    If we are serious about extending political engagement and closing the gap between people and politics, Labour needs to do two things. Firstly, we need to have a coherent and powerful narrative about bringing power closer to the people. And secondly, we need to have a series of practical proposals to make the political process more accessible and relevant to people. Even though Labour was the party which introduced devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and recently favoured “permissive” […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Corbyn campaign looks to mobilise thousands in the North

    Corbyn campaign looks to mobilise thousands in the North

    Thousands of Corbynistas are expected to turn out to back the leader at a series of rallies in the North of England organised by Momentum. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign hopes that events in York, Leeds, Hull and Liverpool over the weekend will mobilise large numbers of the grassroots membership as he aims to replicate the successful nationwide speaking tour of last year’s contest. Corbyn will be joined by fellow core MP supporters Richard Burgon and Imran Hussain as well as local councillors in […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Debbie Abrahams: Politicians must be closer to communities if we are to tackle the scourge of inequality

    Debbie Abrahams: Politicians must be closer to communities if we are to tackle the scourge of inequality

    The month after the most important election in our lifetime, whether to remain or leave the European Union, we are only just starting to unpick what the referendum result means for the UK, for its different regions, areas and nation states, and for our diverse communities across the country. Crucially we need to understand why the majority of people who voted, voted to leave and what this means for democratic reform. Some have been quick to respond pointing the finger at immigration levels […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit