Unedited version of column for Scottish Sun on Sunday 23rd June
CULTURAL VANDALS & LIBRARY CUTS
This week I was invited to speak at a UK conference of Chief Librarians about social justice, you may be surprised but it gave me the opportunity to get stuck into the UK ‘Minister for Culture’ Ed Vaizey who spoke straight after me.
For some reason the Tories regard him as some sort of moderniser but like his party he is little more than a ‘cultural vandal’ exuding privilege, power and smarminess.
Vaizey insisted that libraries are thriving pointing to the fact that local authorities invested £820 million in libraries last year; claiming that Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester were ‘all making major investments in their central libraries’ and that Birmingham would soon be the largest library in Europe when it opens this year.
But the £820 million investment did not take inflation into account or that 4 years ago the budget was £1.2 billion.
He neglected to tell us that Birmingham cut its libraries budget by £2.3m or that Manchester is cutting 5 libraries, whilst Liverpool is gunning for 10 out of 19 libraries.
He didn’t tell the audience that the super-libraries are usually miles away from the communities that they are supposed to serve.
Tories hate the fact that since 1964 there has been a legal duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” libraries services.
The law is an anathema to those who believe libraries to be part of the ‘the something for nothing culture’.
In areas with high poverty which do not have computers, libraries are often the only place that people can get free access.
The elderly may use libraries to read, for the internet or even as a place to keep warm and enjoy company.
With 290 million visits last year, Public libraries hold an important place in people’s hearts as a service used out of choice rather than necessity.
So why then are we are losing two libraries a week to austerity cuts?
The poorest families cannot even afford the basic essentials, let alone books, meaning that library cuts will be felt most by their children.
In a nation where seven million people already ‘lack basic literacy skills’, where six million are ‘excluded from access to computers’ and four million suffer ‘social and economic deprivation,’’ libraries can offer a vital lifeline to those desperate to improve their lives,
In poverty stricken communities where peace and quiet or space is not always so easy to find, a library can be a safe haven for a child to learn.
So why should that child not have the right for a library ‘to be just around the corner’?
If that right is lost then future generations will suffer most. Libraries may not provoke a rush to the barricades, but their ‘drip drip decimation’ will turn communities into ghost towns.
The spectre of privatisation long hanging over public libraries will happen if the Tories think they can get away with it.
When the Manic Street Preachers began a song with ‘Libraries gave us power,’ they were so right.
Since the 19th century Public Libraries have been the ‘People’s Universities’, which is why we should fight for them in every community and stick the likes of Ed Vaizey in a museum.
GIVE OUR FALLEN SOLDIERS THEIR HUMAN RIGHTS
Britain’s claim to fulfil its ‘duty of care’ to its armed forces meant that soldiers who made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ were expected to forgo the rights enjoyed by ordinary members of the public.
What a sad state of affairs that families of soldiers who died as a result of the MOD’s negligence and ‘penny pinching’ were forced to fight them in the courts.
The Supreme Court finally ruled this week that families of soldiers killed in combat but not properly equipped can sue for compensation. The MOD had tried to claim ‘combat immunity’ from human rights laws.
As Cameron prepares to celebrate the start of the Great War- WWI he should reflect on the vanity of the Armchair Generals who sent 10 million soldiers to die in futile trench warfare, maybe then he would stop treating our soldiers as cannon fodder.
Soldiers have the right to expect that if they lose their lives in action that their families will be provided for.
A mother of one of those soldiers killed in Iraq said it best- ‘They can no longer treat soldiers as sub-human with no rights. What we have done here will make a difference to a lot of people.”
I’LL SWAP HER FOR A BOY
At a wedding this week my son was asked by a lady if she could take away our cute daughter. His response was no chance, until he was asked ‘what if she was replaced with a brother’- Reply– ‘That’s a shame, I love her but ok I’ll swap!’