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

  • Featured Latest Ashcroft poll shows Labour making ground in England – but facing wipeout in Scotland

    Latest Ashcroft poll shows Labour making ground in England – but facing wipeout in Scotland

    After the Ashcroft constituency poll of Scottish seats exactly a month ago I said that Scottish Labour is going down in flames, and taking Miliband’s chances of a majority with it. Today’s latest Ashcroft poll has done nothing to put out those flames, or suggest Scottish Labour is performing anything other than a catastrophic nosedive. Except now it almost feels like everyone has adjusted to the “new normal” whereby a Labour heartland is now a Labour wasteland. We’ll get back […]

    Read more →
  • News Video Broadcasters to Cameron: Tell us a date you can do for head-to-head debate

    Broadcasters to Cameron: Tell us a date you can do for head-to-head debate

    Broadcasters appear to be losing their patience with David Cameron’s attempts to get out of appearing the pre-election TV debates. It is widely understood that Cameron has been advised by strategist Lynton Crosby not to take part in the leaders’ debates and has been dragging his feet during negotiations, making more debates each time broadcasters make new proposals. Following the initial invitation of UKIP to appear, Cameron claimed that the Green Party should also take part. Now the Greens, SNP […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Tactical voting: unless we are an open tribe, we will die

    Tactical voting: unless we are an open tribe, we will die

    So Compass holds a debate about the relevance, or not, of tactical voting in the run up May and straight away John Spellar MP and then Luke Akehurst are on to us. John accused us of calling on people ‘not to vote Labour”, Luke says we are ‘naïve’. Well first lets be clear: we have set up the space on our website for a debate; we have one article for tactical voting and one against. We wanted to see what […]

    Read more →
  • News Cooper says “slippery” Farage’s immigration speech will increase division

    Cooper says “slippery” Farage’s immigration speech will increase division

    Yvette Cooper has accused Nigel Farage of attempting to exploit concerns about immigration rather than attempting to come up with practical policies. The Shadow Home Secretary also derided UKIP for getting themselves in a “ridiculous tangle” on the issue – last week a spokesperson for the party said they would introduce a net migration target of 50,000, while Farage today claims that it is not party policy. This follows Ed Miliband attacking David Cameron for missing his 2010 immigration promises […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured PMQs Verdict: Nevermind what Cameron said – it’s what he wouldn’t say that matters

    PMQs Verdict: Nevermind what Cameron said – it’s what he wouldn’t say that matters

    There are only three PMQs left until the election. Three more of these turgid, unattractive, unedifying and borderline pointless sessions to sit through before May. If this is the highlight of the Parliamentary week then Parliament can’t prorogue quick enough, frankly. Evidently many MPs feel the same, judging by the wide open spaces on the green benches this lunchtime. After a few minutes MPs had all spaced themselves out a little bit to make the place look a bit less […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit