December 19, 2012
The Tory party speaks: Libraries are for ‘luvvies’
by Ellie Robins
The British Tory MP and Communities Secretary (!) Eric Pickles has shown his party’s true colours by referring to those concerned about library closures as ‘luvvies’.
During heated words in the House of Commons, Labour MP Tristram Hunt asked Pickles, ‘What kind of abysmal, philistine, reactionary government puts dustbins above library books?’
The back story: Pickles is weirdly fixated on rubbish, and took personal umbrage at studies suggesting that most communities get better value for money from fortnightly dustbin collection alongside facilities to encourage recycling and composting. He ordered all councils — even those already operating a fortnightly system for some time — to restore weekly collections or lose funds. Meanwhile, those very councils are already having to close libraries, museums and care homes thanks to Pickles’s party’s austerity measures. New data shows that 201 British libraries closed in 2012.
Pickles’s response to Hunt’s question was:
The people who are putting dustbins above those things are people who care about the general service provided to the electorate. The honourable gentleman is a bit of a luvvie, so no doubt he is looking intensely at the drop in culture, but that is a matter for local decision, and he is wholly wrong.
This is a peculiar insult, given that a “luvvy” is an affected theatre actor and Hunt is a politician and respected historian, but what’s abundantly clear is that Mr Dustbin is dismissing libraries as esoteric, upper-class-bound institutions. This is disturbing on a number of levels, only the most obvious of which is that cultural institutions and access to books are essential to healthy communities. Beyond that, for many people in the UK the local library is the only venue available for quiet study and research — for activities like jobseeking, which Pickles and co. have made so traumatic and widespread a necessity.
It beggars belief that a representative of this government — which has systematically cut every benefit and public service for the poor, disabled and disadvantaged — would accuse a supporter of libraries of being too shortsighted to care about ‘the general service’ provided to the electorate. There are two and a half years until the next election. How many libraries will be left by the time it comes around?
Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.