...if it fails to protect elements of public provision that alleviate social inequality?
Despite the way the bulldozing of cultural provision has been marketed, it is one of the most spectacularly anti-working class cuts the city has proposed.
A city without decent Arts & Libraries provision is like a large house without windows or doors. In the face of increasing social inequality, removing some of the remaining opportunities for ordinary people to access those things that are heaped on the better off, is negligent.
Back in the bad old 1980’s and early 90s when I was a young naive Newcastle City councillor I would often despair when it came time – on the Leisure committee – yet again to ‘defend’ community Arts. In those days Libraries were not, fortunately – seen so much as an add-on extra. What felt strange to me then and is utter madness now was the attitude of those who linked their sneering resentment of cultural provision in the city (supposedly the regional capital) to their working class credentials.
The current thinking behind the cuts (if we allow that brain activity has been involved) seems to have more to do with the testosterone politics of ‘my austerity cuts are bigger than yours’. The very word austerity – once synonymous with post-war British backbone and a make-do and mend mentality - has become a political fig leaf. Behind that pathetic covering dangle determined stupidity and wilful dishonesty.
Let us deal with stupidity first.
Never has there been a time when children in particular, needed more help, more support, better access to broader horizons. We know that getting on in the world is not simply a matter of ability (for heaven’s sake just look at the current crop of MPs). Fulfilment of potential and success in life is to do with aspiration and a feeling of entitlement. These are practically core subjects for the well heeled. It’s as if the cookie jar of opportunity gets handed round and when it stops in front of regular Newcastle residents, the council is there to slap their hands away. It’s cruel, it’s unfair and it is anti-working class.
Then there is the dishonesty.
Cutting provision that gives free education, recreation, life opportunities and access to the whole world of ‘other’, in the name of austerity, stinks. It acquiesces to the insinuation that the current financial troubles are the fault of ordinary people. Let us remind ourselves that the national and global economic crisis was brought about by the greed and the corrupt, unpunished criminal activities of people whose incomes make the budgets of some small countries look like pin money. They have not suffered reductions in their lifestyles and comfort. This is an extension of the lie that we are ‘all in this together’. We are not. We never were.
It begs saying again though it has been said many times. When the rich get it wrong we give them eye watering amounts of money to shore up ‘the system’. THE SYSTEM being that set of rules and practices that suits the rich so well in the first place. The rest on the other hand, must not only see standards of living reduced in terms of lower wages or lost jobs or the stress of repeatedly re-applying for their own positions or more expensive commodities, they must lose the very services that might help them and their families regain some ground. They must suffer the decimation of institutions that have a proud track record of showing a path to a greater world and that might help float a future for their children.
Surely we cannot have forgotten the lessons of Bill Farrell and the Settlement movement and that “Way to the better” for ordinary people.
(See blog10 My One Night Stand with the Ghost of Bill Farrell - Whitnigahs)
Everyone should have the opportunity to create a life for themselves that is the one they want and not the one circumstance has thrust on them. Libraries have always been part of that chance for fulfilment.
To misquote the last line of W.B Yates He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
“Tread softly because you tread on (their) dreams”
Yes Newcastle has a large central library building. I use it often, being one of the weirdoes who do not have internet access at home BUT, part of the point of a library is local provision. Perhaps like some MPs, local councillors are just too cosy with what they have. Do they understand that some folk actually find it difficult or expensive to travel; some people do not have computers or kindles and find books prohibitively expensive to buy? Home grown theatre, locally produced dance, a brilliant pianist from a local state school can light a pathway for others to follow out into a wider world. A library can provide access to a whole galaxy of learning; of science, art, music and literature. But maybe the people who made this crass nasty decision spiralled off this planet some time ago.
Blog 26 Library Love