Well, this was a surprise, an election after only two years of a new government. I had expected in 2015 that we may have a hung parliament and there would be an election shortly after that, but not now. I was particularly interested in 2015 about the different political parties’ attitude towards libraries so in my morning walk today I was again pondering how libraries figure in the policies of the parties.
The Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group was only just re-formed in January 2017, to much announcement and comment in Library and Information circles. All Party Parliamentary Groups sound so official, but when you examine them closely, they have no real power at all. They are a group of like minded people from both the House of Lords and House of Commons, who show an interest in a particular subject, and presumably try to reflect that interest in a positive way in parliamentary proceedings. So although the purpose of the Library All Party Parliamentary Group is stated as “To promote the role of libraries in society and the economy, and examine themes in the wider information and knowledge sector” there is little indication of the way that they hope to achieve that. One would hope that as the chair of the group, Gill Furniss, is a qualified librarian, then at least the group will act as a voice for libraries.
Looking at the make up of the group, it has 4 lords and 4 MPs from Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats. Two of the Peers are Crossbench. As yet, they have not had chance to achieve anything, and what will happen to them after this new election? Looking through the rules of APPGs it seems as though the group can continue despite the possibility of losing some members through MPs loosing their seats. At least the lords with be still there. In theory, the membership could increase with new MPs joining. But this does not answer my original question – What are the policies of the political parties on libraries?
Well, a swift Google search tells me that in Derbyshire the local conservative party 2017 manifesto say that they will “Protect libraries from Labour’s cuts and closure threats, recognising the important role our Library Service has in our communities”. This is response to the local government elections, and guess which party are in power in Derbyshire? The Guardian tells me that Theresa May has not yet written the 2017 election manifesto and is asking MPs what they want in there. Responses, according to the Guardian correspondent are: Brexit, Brexit, Just About Managing families, Brexit, immigration and Brexit. Not a lot about libraries in there.
In the interests of being non-partisan I have found the local Derbyshire Labour manifesto which is decidedly in favour of libraries, as they say “Derbyshire Labour recognises the community value of your local libraries which is why they have kept them all open and even invested in building new ones.” And the national party? I am not sure about them, I found the Jeremy Corbyn website, which includes policies on Energy and the Environment, Transport, NHS, as well as the Arts, which says that “We will create a legal obligation for for local authorities to provide a comprehensive library service”
My Google search was very swift and didn’t immediately throw the Derbyshire Liberal Democrat policy at me, but did give me the Buckinghamshire Liberal Democrats website, which states that they will “transform libraries into real community hubs using the library model to develop local, community led facilities.” Is that a euphemism for making them all volunteer libraries? And what about the national Liberal Democrat policy? Tim Farron has stated “No Library closed under Lib Dem Leadership” but he said that in 2012. Nothing about libraries is mentioned in their “Issues” pages under Education or Culture.
So, it seems from a quick skim of the internet that libraries are an important issue to local councils and local parties but that matter of interest has been overshadowed by other events and political issues as far as national government is concerned. Perhaps it is simply a personal issue for people in politics and not part of any particular Political Agenda.
This election does seem to be one that has come about without a well considered agenda, rather too soon for pronouncements to be made on anything that is not in the immediate attention of the populace, or press for that matter. Perhaps this is a good thing is you want libraries to be an issue, a personal and a local one. When your parliamentary candidates are on the hustings, or walking your streets looking for voters, then why not ask “What are YOU going to do for Libraries? Will you join the All Party Parliamentary Group for Libraries?” At least it will get the candidates thinking and perhaps they will start listening to the advice and research that has proved the benefit of libraries to society.