I’ve never been a library lover. I’ve never taken to sitting there, in some dusty corner of my local archive of books, losing myself not just to the act of reading but the musty, hushed atmosphere of the place itself. I don’t depend on libraries for my books. I haven’t been to one in years.
When it was announced that libraries across the country would be closed down, I was frankly unmoved and more concerned about prioritising the threats of more devastating cuts to public services and investment. Reading will not end without libraries. In many ways they are outdated and unappealing. The future of reading, writing and knowledge lies elsewhere.
But recently I’ve been thinking about the issue again. And it’s certainly wrong that the Coalition are getting away with the quiet removal of libraries and other amenities, just because they happen to be less important than other areas in danger of being swallowed by the avalanche of cuts. The government is constantly striving to be radical, often for no practical reason. In all their years of opposition our current leaders appear to have built up such extreme levels of restless energy that they desire to drastically change everything, regardless of its merits. Some things are less broken than others; they should stop wasting time and money by meddling in too many areas.
I’m not saying libraries do not require government attention. Part of my attitude to them is down to the problems of the system. However they are also something that democratic, educated, developed nations, ought to be preserving rather than eradicating.
As I’ve said, my view of libraries is largely passionless. But once, reading both the novel Fahrenheit 451 and an explanatory introduction from its author, Ray Bradbury, I was entranced by the power, mystique and heritage of the institution that is the library. Across the world they have been the foundations of our knowledge, the records of our history, for centuries, if not millennia. Particularly in modern Britain they are vital bastions of cultural identity and heritage; a heritage the government is unthinkingly decimating with its deficit hacking cuts. Most of the cultural organisations hit by the government’s spending plans require little funding but produce massively disproportionate benefits. The case for the pluses of cutting them is wafer thin.
I began by stating that I had never been a library lover. This isn’t 100% true. As a boy, my attachment to reading began with the free books of the local library. Back then I discovered that an hour is better spent with a book than a games console, and that hour would be unbeatably absorbing. I only read trashy children’s and teen fiction, detective stories like the Hardy boys for example, but gazing around at the shelves it was then I knew that the written word and the ability to devour them was the gateway to entire worlds and experiences and information.
I still didn’t like reading in the library itself, an unattractive mid 20th century building, but I liked taking the books home. I liked that it was free and always remembered that reading needn’t be expensive from then on. I liked learning how to interact with the librarian and make my choice. It taught me more than just the importance of reading. Of course then I didn’t realise how meagre and disappointing the choice at my local library really was. That’s the main reason I abandoned it at quite a young age, and the same factor behind me shunning my school library as a source of information and a place of work throughout my school years.
I still think that only the most wonderfully impressive libraries retain a magical air; provide the sort of feeling I got for them reading Fahrenheit 451. Great historical libraries with their own stories and vast collections are beautiful, captivating buildings. Even an ordinary academic library, when devoted to your favourite subject, can be inspiring. Whilst regular local libraries lack the architectural magnificence and legacy, they remain vital lifelines, if only for a handful in the community.
David Cameron’s Big Society, “DIY” and “help yourself get on in life” message, is in many ways perfectly encapsulated by the library. And yet he cuts them. He removes hundreds of local centres for people looking to educate themselves, for children encouraged into reading and away from useless, sometimes harmful diversion. Instead of getting rid of libraries he should be increasing access to them and strengthening the ones that are already there; with wider stock and more attractive, better designed spaces. The Prime Minister’s political party no longer seem worthy of the name “Conservative” but the changes they propose are hardly for the better. I’ve made it pretty clear here that libraries have not been integral to my reading life for a long time. But it seems to me that the Big Society, if it is a real concept at all, would depend on community assets like the library for cohesiveness and development.
Obviously I don’t think we’re heading for quite the apocalyptic decline in information and knowledge vividly rendered in Fahrenheit 451. But Bradbury’s work highlighted that reading and access to learning can be a right as much as health care can be in civilized, fair society. And with the decline of independent bookstores and even Waterstones, libraries could have remained an inexpensive safeguard and positive starting point for the young. In a way the cuts have rallied some communities around their local library. But most will simply fade away, like so much else to be cut under this government. I feel part of a generation that is less widely read than any before it at times. So for me, for nostalgia’s sake at least, the loss of libraries is a grave mistake and a regrettable shame. They should not be allowed to die enveloped by the silence demanded within their walls; a nationwide, noisy debate about the future of reading should begin.
Posted in Personal, Uncategorized
Tagged 2010, access, action, architecture, Big Society, biography, blog, Booker, books, Bradbury, Britain, British, Budget, Cameron, challenge, change, children, Clegg, closures, Coalition, cohesion, Comedy, Community, Conservatives, cultural catastrophe, culture, Cuts, David, deficit, destroyed, director, documents, down, Ed, education, effects, elites, England, Fahrenheit 451, film, football, funny, Gove, Guardian, heritage, history, human, hurried, impacts, info, inspiration, introduction, knowledge, Labour, learning, Liam, libraries, library, London, love, Michael, Miliband, month, movie, Mrt'sblog, myth, narrative, needless, new, nostalgia, novel, novels, opinion, Opposition, organisation, Osborne, overzealous, plot, pointless, Politics, possibility, radical, range, Ray, reading, recession, records, research, Review, rights, rural, rushed, savings, science, script, sex, shoddy, shut, skills, snob, spending, stock, story, study, style, The, thin, together, treasure, Trim, UK, values, wafer, write, writer, writing, young, youth
Last week’s Strategic Defence and Comprehensive Spending Reviews brought out the best and worst of the British political system. In particular the format of Prime Minister’s Questions, with two opposing teams hurling groans at one another, was shown to be both redundant and formulaic on the one hand and sensible and necessary on the other. In the majority of recent encounters in the chamber, the Prime Minister David Cameron has used the inexperience of his new opponent Ed Miliband to derail any challenges before they can gather steam. He stands there, shaking his head at the indignation swelling from the Labour benches, moaning about the shambolic economic legacy they left behind. Rather than accept any alternative method to the path chosen by his coalition, he puffs out his chest and talks patronisingly as a wise old figure, one that has been there and done it. “You cannot attack a plan without a plan” he tells Miliband, is something he learnt from his time in Opposition. Miliband must be desperate to slam the Prime Minister for his sheer cheek and hypocrisy. After all it must be obvious to anyone that Miliband and his new Labour front bench will need time to devise an alternative to Cameron’s cuts, just as he and George Osborne took time to decide where the axe would fall hardest. And given the way Cameron did a drastic u-turn on economic policy after the banking crisis, guided by ideology and the opportunity for massive political gain, it must pain Miliband to watch the Prime Minister get away with his own allegations now. But sensibly, rather than lose his cool, Miliband has stuck to a reasoned, calm approach to PMQs that should quietly serve him well if he can keep it up.
It’s been difficult for Miliband to land any decisive blows, given that Cameron’s catch all defence of the deficit still seems to hold sway with voters. But Cameron must know that he will not be able to pass the buck forever, and soon it will be the policies of his own government being judged and assessed. He must hope, for example, that circumstances do not change and Britain does not need to fight a conventional war within the next ten years. The decision to go ahead with the construction of two aircraft carriers was made inevitable due to the costs of cancellation bizarrely exceeding the build itself, but surely it would have made sense to provide these carriers with strike capability, if they had to be built? As usual Cameron blamed Labour’s legacy of overspend and for the most part the defence budget was balanced in a way the Opposition could not disagree with. The vital parts of the military’s capability, such as those operational in Afghanistan, were protected and excess necessarily trimmed. Provision was made for the emergence of new threats such as terrorism and cyber warfare, and strengths like our Special Forces were recognised and reinforced with additional funding. In fact the only real disagreement Miliband had with the SDR was the fact that it was rushed and made more about cutting than equipping the nation to protect itself. This led to a largely pointless session in which Miliband reasserted this main theme.
Of course Miliband was right not to challenge strategic advice for the sake of it, and I am not saying he should have. However there were certainly other approaches that could have been taken to the review and some will regard it as an opportunity dangerously missed. Why, for example, did the majority of the defence budget still deal with threats deemed extremely unlikely, and a far smaller portion dedicated to combating new, ever present dangers? The intelligence services did receive a funding boost but many will say that the real threats are still not properly dealt with, in favour of costly projections of power such as carriers and troop numbers. Critics will argue that in a time of austerity the money safeguarded for outdated areas of defence, which aim to maintain Britain’s world power status but fail, would be better spent on public services and assets the country has that could broadcast our influence globally in other ways. The big decision on Trident was essentially postponed. Millions of voters would happily see Britain’s nuclear deterrent decommissioned, especially when the equivalent cost of schools or hospitals is drawn in stark comparison. Despite all the political talk of fairness doing the rounds at the moment, the views of millions will go unheard. And it’s very hard to believe in the so called fairness being dished out when it is controlled by establishment figures from a wealthy, elite background and they are failing to deal with the looming problems of the future.
There was of course far more fundamental disagreement between the coalition and Labour over the Comprehensive Spending Review. It’s practically impossible to get a firm handle on all of the cuts, as they are so widespread. It’s clear though that some will lead to greater unfairness and inequality, and Labour should rightly fight them. However lame an excuse it is though the Prime Minister has a point about Labour’s lack of an alternative plan. So far the only thing Miliband and his Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson have come up with is a promise for more taxation on the banks, which is good but would need to be carefully implemented, and an archaic stimulus package for growth. The emphasis on growth is right but too vague and will need to be contrasted favourably with the coalition’s overreliance on a private sector driven recovery. The growth should also be modern and sustainable, so to hear Johnson talking about road building projects sounds like something from Germany or America in the depression hit 30s.
It seems that all the major parties are happy to surrender the green agenda in the current climate. Miliband, once Energy and Climate Change Secretary, has done absolutely nothing since becoming leader to demonstrate a commitment to the challenge and a disheartening impression that green issues were always simply a means to end for him is developing. Cameron will no doubt continue to call his government the “greenest ever”. Whilst he may have cancelled the third runway at Heathrow, and he may not be proposing outdated road building programmes, he is providing little actual public investment for much needed green power sources. Plans for a barrier on the Severn estuary, which could have potentially generated 5% of Britain’s energy needs for zero carbon output, were dropped in the spending review. The efficiency of the technology was questionable, but it’s the sort of ambitious project that someone ought to be championing. Labour kicked up a little fuss, despite it fitting their ideals of investment for sustainable jobs and growth.
At the moment there is a sole Green voice in Parliament, that of party leader Caroline Lucas, speaking up on these issues. Of course this does not accurately reflect the extent of support for the Green party at the last election. Under a truly representative voting system the Greens would have more MPs based on the last set of results. But should the system be made more fair then without a doubt more still would vote for not just the Greens but whichever fringe party they genuinely thought to have the best policies and that cared about the right issues. Given the crisis of confidence in British politics recently, I can think of no better breath of fresh air and accountability than a more democratic, modern system of election. Next May we’ll have the chance to vote for real votes. And with any luck the defenders of the establishment will fail and the next time decisions as important as those made in the CSR are carried out, thousands of previously silent people will have a genuine voice.
I passionately believe that without fairer votes honesty cannot be restored to politics. And not only honesty but the ability to inspire. Votes that count will inspire people to use politics as the vehicle for real, progressive, needed change. I’m saying YES to the Alternative Vote and I hope you’ll join me.
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It was another day of false promises for Portsmouth fans today. Chief Executive Peter Storrie had previously insisted, even last week, that the new new owners would find another set of more permanent new owners willing to embrace the debt and bring stability as Pompey fought for survival against the odds. Several parties are still apparently in talks to become the latest to take ownership of the Fratton Park outfit, but for fans clinging to hopes of Premier League football such boardroom discussions, despite their far reaching financial implications, will mean little. After all the deeds to the club seem to have changed hands so often this season that even the most loyal supporter would find it hard to keep track and probably doesn’t care who sits in the executive boxes as long as their club is playing at the level it deserves.
The problem for Pompey fans is that after today Premiership football slipped away from them for next season. The almost laughable comings and goings in the distant boardroom has finally had serious, undoable repercussions on the pitch. The nine point penalty imposed following the club’s entry into a painful process of administration almost certainly dooms Pompey to bottom place in the table. The shock at a top flight club with a history such as Portsmouth’s reaching such depths of financial woe is widespread, as the Prime Minister himself commented on events. Rarely do big politicians comment on sporting matters but the added ingredient of fiscal responsibility must have made a sympathetic statement to fans attractive for No.10. Some would find such a statement, with its emphasis on prudent financial practice, ironic given Gordon Brown’s record of presiding over an era of consequence free credit and a ballooning budget deficit as Chancellor and financial collapse, recession and dodgy banking as Prime Minister. However clearly recent trends show that big money owners, often from abroad, can lead to irresponsible and impatient behaviour that threatens the long term stability of our beloved clubs, in favour of glamorous short term goals.
It might be argued that the recession will inevitably lead to tougher times for every area of the economy, football clubs included. Whilst this may be true, the fundamental issue is not one of extreme, temporary financial hardship but one of regulation and responsibility. People will always watch football, just as they will always go to the cinema. During the recession the film industry has actually seen people flocking to the big screens in greater numbers. Of course the cinema is now a cheaper experience than most football matches and film studios still felt the pinch as the global market contracted, but ultimately the demand for football remains strong and consistent.
The real issue that has led to so many cases of turmoil over the course of the season, with Portsmouth being the most high profile example of failure, is the FA and Premier League’s inability to screen candidates for ownership. The initial failure to find an appropriate owner to replace Mr Sasha Gaydamak is the cause of all Pompey’s subsequent woes. Elsewhere too there are worrying signs for football fans. AFC Bournemouth, also of the south coast, face a winding up order despite success on the field this season. In the Premier League an influx of wealthy foreigners looks unsustainable; the miracle at Man City in particular might be a bubble waiting to burst. Long established title contenders like Liverpool and Manchester United find themselves unexpectedly limited by shady Americans who promised extravagance and undying support at first but this quickly gave way to infighting on Merseyside and enormous debts in Salford at the world’s richest club. Arsenal fans hold their breath as a Russian tycoon edges towards control of the shares and sections of the Chelsea faithful must still wonder if Mr Abramovich will suddenly tire of the London club’s failure in Europe and abruptly walk away. It should be noted that British owners are no more reliable, just look at Mike Ashley and Newcastle Utd.
Who then is responsible for handing the world’s richest club to a Glazer family who can’t afford it? How were Pompey allowed to jump from owner to owner, with none yet proving suitable? It is at times like these that one sympathizes with old school purists, who rage in disgust at the ludicrous money in football today and look longingly back to the days when fans were local and footballers local heroes. However in reality such backward thinking nostalgia is impractical and foolish given the tremendous spectacle the game has grown to become. Entertainment and accessibility have increased as well as the enormous liberating potential football clubs have as a vehicle for wealth in the local community. This progression should not be frowned upon and lamented, but there is a need for it to be managed correctly so that the maximum amount of people benefit and the club remains a stable asset of the area for years to come. Such gross mismanagement and incompetence with such large sums of money can only be rivaled by the greed driven mistakes of bankers in recent times. However the bankers were playing a risky game for high rewards. Whilst there is money in football today the sort of men who buy clubs have made their millions elsewhere in much more productive areas; it is generally acknowledged that you will put more money into a club than you will get out as an owner, it’s about extravagance and theatre, a plaything at which wealthy associates might meet, not profit. Why then are such dramatic catastrophes occurring? Clearly in some cases men without sufficient means to buy a club have been allowed to do so and then to make things worse have acted with incompetence. Something must be changed by the authorities to safeguard jobs, money and treasured clubs with vibrant football legacies.
I mentioned both the Prime Minister and Mike Ashley in this article. I end by saying that Portsmouth must learn lessons from both as they enter administration. Mike Ashley, despite scandals and meddling that led to Newcastle’s relegation, has somehow restored the Magpies (perhaps by backing away from team affairs) so that they look like clinching automatic promotion straight back to the Premiership with ease. Portsmouth could dwell on shattered dreams like the floating new stadium in the harbor or past glories like their FA Cup triumph or they could begin rebuilding now in preparation for a competitive Championship campaign. That means finding a sensible owner who understands the club’s importance but also stays out of the limelight and team affairs. Which brings me to the Prime Minister. The forthcoming General Election shall be dominated by the divide on when to begin cutting the deficit and the PM’s view is that cuts shouldn’t start till next year or the tiny recovery, revised up to 0.3% growth as of today, shall be endangered. The administrator taking charge of Pompey promised that deep cuts will be introduced to save the club from complete meltdown. Although fans will want whatever is necessary to save the club they will also not want to replicate the slide of their bitter rivals Southampton down the leagues. A Newcastle-esque immediate return is preferable as each year in the Championship will make promotion harder to acquire. Therefore those in charge at Pompey must follow the Prime Minister in opposing dramatic cuts, i.e. “firesales” of the best players at the team’s core, but making those that are necessary. Pompey’s administration and the recession are both calamities but both provide opportunities for rebuilding from scratch and with wise decisions, stronger foundations will be laid.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged 2010, administration, Avram Grant, Championship, Cup, David, financial, football, James, Liam, owner, Pompey, Portsmouth FC, recession, relegation, soccer, Trim, World