Monday, November 29, 2010

Layer 389 . . . More Royal Wedding Thoughts, Civilisation, Closing Libraries, Conservatism, Blandness, Blairism, Thatcher's Children and the Class of 68

What kind of philistine country allows its libraries to close down - no matter how desperate its politics and economics?

Without libraries, we will lose a mark of our civilisation

250 libraries are earmarked to be closed, yet the government ignores this huge loss to the community
by Catherine Bennett

How happy does it make you when you hear your library will be closed to save money?
Soon, Mr Cameron's happiness project may help councils to establish whether libraries do, as philanthropists once believed, have something important to offer communities or whether, as many authorities have concluded, the contribution of this service to general well-being is so negligible as to make it a prime candidate for cuts.

Of course, for the almost 250 libraries already earmarked for closure, their role in the happiness supply chain is probably irrelevant. By the time experts have established that, where the alleviation of ignorance, illiteracy, isolation, helplessness, unemployment, infirmity, boredom, neglect and poverty are concerned, libraries do, after all, offer something culturally irreplaceable, they will be gone. It is becoming clear that Mr Cameron's government will do nothing to protect them.
In another model example of the big society at work, his proposal is furiously opposed by an existing community group, Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries. This is not merely because they want librarians who have been trained to run libraries, a job that involves helping other citizens input highly personal information into computers as well as recommending and ordering books, supporting literacy, hosting community groups, storytelling, helping with homework, dealing with the lonely, needy or difficult individuals who rely on the places in ways that vast chunks of the supposedly squeezed middle, as well as prosperous county councillors, will never know.

Lauren Smith, a spokesperson for another volunteer group, Voices for the Library, points out that it is the very people who do not use libraries "whose voices are loudest".

Without libraries, another campaigner predicts, many of the uneducated, unemployed and otherwise forgotten former users will end up needing much costlier help, further down the line, inside job centres, doctors' surgeries, advice centres, housing offices. But a more pressing problem is that "community-run" can only, where it is divorced from the prevailing library service, be a euphemism for permanently trashed.

Supposing every devolved library were to be taken over by a group which was, by chance, composed of kindly, discreet book-lovers with no family commitments, willing to travel and with a gift for incessant fundraising and building maintenance, there would still be no way customers – or beneficiaries – could depend upon it. How do users complain when the library is shut during advertised opening hours?
Bastards. This is sickening and outrageous. We need more and better libraries, not fewer - if we're to become the civilised and enlightened country many of us hoped we might be. But then bringing civilisation, empowerment and enlightenment to the masses was never on the Tory agenda, was it? Far better for people to stay at home with their soap operas, tabloid TV and 'newspapers', celebrity magazines and satellite sports channels.

"Please mum, can we go to the library today?" "Shut up and get back to your cartoons, you bloody little bookworm."


Typical of the vile comments on Comment is Free at the foot of the article is this one by someone whose icon says Smash The State:
I have to say of all things, Libraries are not a priority.
If it has to be done close libraries in wealthy areas, especially those silly small ones what never have the book you want. They can afford their own book anyway.
Leaving aside the small matter of why this type of moron is crawling all over the Guardian website these days (because there's now a paywall around the Murdoch empire?) - this is precisely why children, as well as adults, need libraries. So that some of them at least don't grow up to be bigoted, ignorant fuckwits.


She might be a bit of a whacky Hackneyite, but it's good to see Suzanne Moore back in the Guardian this weekend:
Royal wedding? It's the bland leading the bland
Kate Middleton is the perfect people's princess for this dull, conservative land

Had I recently arrived from a land far away – and indeed it's a long time since I have been in this newspaper – I wouldn't have much trouble telling you which government is in power. I would simply glance around at people's homes, the clothes they wear, the programmes they watch on TV, and I would see as clear as day that conservative taste stalks the land. It was creeping up on us before the Tories were elected but now it is triumphant. In its understated way of course. Conservative taste does not present itself as anything but good taste. It is just "classic". It is nice, cosy, comfortable rather than sexy. It is simply the way things should be.

To see it in action just look at the swish of the Middleton hair. Of course this lovely young woman has lovely hair which has been blow-dried into glossy swishiness. This is the pinnacle of her achievement and every woman in the land should aspire to it.

This may, of course, be about my refusal to age gracefully, but why, watching this hard-edged girl and diffident young manboy, did I feel unable to place them generationally? They don't resemble any young people I know. It was her tights that did it – flesh-coloured. Opaques would bring down the monarchy.

But what do I know? Fashion editors liked the dress. Possibly "surrendered wife" is the look du jour. Of course it's all nice enough in a middle-aged "don't frighten the horses" Tory spouse way.

The prevalence of Conservative style is the norm to which we all aspire . . .

This is a style that explicitly represses sex and money. Bling is for those who don't have wealth. Sex is about Sam Cam style prettiness and should not be overt. It's about cleanliness and enormous amounts of grooming. No wonder that every subculture at some point makes women look properly dirty with smeared mascara and messed-up hair.
Conservative style is about everything being in the right place whereas real style depends on interesting juxtapositions. It is about more than buying a Heals kitchen or getting a nice blow-dry. These conventions are deadening and restrictive. During a recession nostalgia sells, but nostalgia for what exactly?

This is not fashion. Or actual taste. It is buying into a vision of classlessness that has been defined entirely by the upper middle class as just the way things are. It is heart-stoppingly dull. These signs and rituals of respectability are part of the dominant consensus. This blanding out is a narrowing down of what culture can do. Of what life can be.

The down-home, retro, neutered aesthetics of conservatism are as deadly as their politics. Resist on every front.

This article says all you need to know about the former PM and the Tory leadership - that they so admire the creature formerly known as T Blair.
Tony Blair's misleading lesson

They call Tony Blair the master and quote from his book.

by Stefan Stern

It's love. "I love A Journey," Michael Gove has confessed to this newspaper. Tony Blair's memoirs are like no other book he has ever read, he declared. And Gove's passion is shared by many in the cabinet. David Cameron has admitted how much he enjoyed the book; George Osborne is said to have an audio version, which allows him to hear the author telling his story in his own voice. At No 10 and No 11 Blair is known as "The Master".

Health secretary Andrew Lansley is another fan. "If you read Tony Blair's memoirs, he makes it clear that he regrets the fact that they did not pursue ... reform much more strongly in the early days of the Labour government," he told the PoliticsHome website (paywall). Gove has drawn a similar conclusion. "One of the ... lessons of A Journey – there are many lessons in it – is don't hang around," he said.
 "Reform", eh? This is classic Chicago-School neo-conservative Shock Doctrine tactics, of course. Declare a national emergency and then trash whatever social democratic welfare state still remains as fast as possible, before anyone really understands what's happening.
The truth is it is not yet clear how good a leader Blair actually was. The electoral track record looks impressive. But how hard was it to defeat the Conservatives in 1997 and 2001? His last victory in 2005 was by a margin of only 3%.
This is rubbish. It's perfectly clear. As I never tire of saying, this country was so desperate to get rid of the Tories in '97 that it didn't matter a toss who was the leader of the Labour party at that time. Labour was elected in spite of having the twattish Blair(s) as its leader(s) - as far as 'traditional' Labour supporters were concerned.

Blair, however, turned out to be a very able leader - in terms of fooling lots of people into believing he was some sort of progressive politician, in terms of forcing through the continuation of Thatcherism, in terms of taking forward the whole neo-conservative globalising agenda, in terms of championing bankers and big finance, in terms of shackling us to George W and his cronies, etc.

No wonder these Tories love him.


Thatcher's children can lead the class of 68 back into action

The students aren't just angry about education cuts. They see themselves as a vanguard for a much wider protest campaign

by Polly Toynbee

The scandalous abolition of the education maintenance allowance (EMA), which gives £30 a week to sixth-formers from the poorest families, is as central to their protest as their tripled fees. I read out a heartbreaking email I had just received from a Hackney sixth-former: she and her twin brother live with their disabled mother. Together they will lose £60 a week in allowance and wonder if they can stay on. She went on her first march on Wednesday, peacefully, far from any violence, and was horrified at being kettled by the police for five hours. Are police and government conspiring to turn peaceful young people into outraged militants?

What started as protests about tuition fees accelerated into a political movement against cuts of all kinds. Inequality, poverty, the shredding of public services, unemployment, bankers and boardroom bonuses had become part of the protest. One fight, one struggle, they said, as if 40 years had suddenly fallen away. Not exactly Paris 1968, but in their sit-in meetings they were beginning to see themselves as the vanguard for a wider campaign. Thatcher's children, selfish, materialist, apathetic? Not at all.

Another eye-opener: the coalition has U-turned to shelve its pledge to protect public sector workers who blow the whistle on dangerous, corrupt or incompetent practices. Why? Ministers just realised it would also protect anyone revealing damage done to services by their own cuts.

When the Metropolitan police commissioner talks of a new era of civil unrest, he may not know which way to look for the next wave. Will it be the cavalcade of wheelchairs that so alarmed politicians last time their users tipped themselves on to the pavement outside No10? More school pupils, losing not just EMA but by next year teaching assistants and teachers, along with libraries, swimming pools, school sports and youth clubs? Or mothers with prams, since women are the great losers in income, childcare, nurseries and other services? Or nurses from closed wards? The "squeezed middle" will be angry, the £12,000 to £30,000 earners about to lose £720 a year, as identified by the Resolution Foundation this week. The same middle saw the decade of GDP growth pass them by, with most new wealth sucked upwards to the top few percentiles.

No doubt the government secretly hopes violent protest by striking public sector unions will alienate popular support. The unions need to be cleverer than that, standing on the side of the public and never against them. Striking teachers sending children home so parents lose days of work will lose sympathy that would otherwise be guaranteed by more creative action.

The recklessness in coalition assaults on the NHS, benefits and council services, with the pain distributed so unjustly, suggests a high-risk government speeding without seatbelts. With so many candidates, it's hard to tell what will erupt as iconic "poll tax" issues. Students are always first – energy, time and lack of children make protest easy. But the class of 68 may not be far behind, an older generation dusting down its memories and equally free of family to make its voice heard, the generation who had it all supporting the recession generations, growing up debt-laden with shrunken services, too few jobs and years away from owning a home.

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