Q. What, other than a too-finely-tuned sense of outrage, has Jacqueline Howett got in common with the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA)?
A. Both have, in complaining about supposedly unfair comment, given that comment far more attention than it might otherwise have had.
It may be slightly unfair to lump the miserable Howett together with the self-styled experts on excellent, well-balanced and strategic government services. None the less, the first I read about Zadie Smith’s piece about libraries on Today was on Telegraph Online (that repository of Marxist-Leninist outpouring). The TPA were upset that Smith had been allowed to provide her ‘essay’ unchallenged while the opposing view was put as part of an interview. One assumes that, in future, when they give quotes to national newspapers they will check that equal coverage is being given to opposing views. Or is ‘bias’ only to be condemned if it is (supposedly) done by the BBC?
Maybe the TPA should have a word with Shaun Bailey, because his counterpoint to Smith’s essay was somewhat confusing. He didn’t even bother to suggest that volunteers could run libraries, even though he was billed as a supporter of the Big Society. Instead, he said that although he himself used libraries, no one else does, and that closures were down to local councils not the government, and that councils were more interested in preserving non jobs (ie. senior management) than libraries.
If that’s the case:
- Why is Blackheath Library, an extremely popular facility, scheduled for closure? The answer is that the lease is expensive. Councils have to weigh up a number of variables and to pretend that there is a simple solution is insulting to our intelligence
- When did local councillors have the chance to present their cuts agendas to the electorate? We haven’t had local elections since the spending review and thus the changed funding settlement for councils. To suggest that local people have had a chance to select one or other cuts programme is simply misleading
- Once you’ve pilloried the management (which as a proportion of the total of a council’s spending is not high) where will your next level of savings come from? Sack the chief executive by all means – but don’t pretend that the £200,000 saving will enable you to save the ‘front line’, whatever that means.
It is beginning to look as though the cutters are getting desperate in their quest to win hearts and minds. Despite their continued assertions that the public sector is by definition bad, people seem to like and want good public services. Most people do recognise that the structural deficit needs to be eradicated but would prefer a nuanced approach. In the meantime, bald and misleading assertions don’t convince.
But a big thank you to Jacqueline Howett and to the good people at the TPA and the Telegraph. Without your protests I might not have come across the booksandpals.blogspot.com site or Zadie Smith’s excellent piece. Nice one.