Living in a one party state

If they close six libraries, what do they plan to do with the books?

Today, Walsall Council’s press office belched out a press release that is already causing some controversy in the Walsall blog community. I genuinely feel pain for the poor scribe who must surely have been coerced to write it under threat of violence, for they surely cannot have done so by their own freewill.

Walsall Council  PR 5807    11/01/2011    [For Immediate Release]

Pledge issued for future of libraries

A review of libraries will see an improved service ‘ready to meet the needs of the 21st century’, a senior councillor has pledged

Walsall Council looks after 16 libraries with only three – Blakenall, Brownhills and Walsall Wood – built in the last 20 years.

A major review has now been ordered into the future of the library service.

Councillor Anthony Harris, Walsall Council cabinet member for leisure and culture, said: “We live in uncertain times and some difficult decisions are being taken up and down the country.

“We’re no different here in Walsall and we must take a hard look at our library service.

“We need a library service that is fit for the 21st century and not to carry on with one that we have inherited.

“Libraries are changing places and, although they are still about books and information, they now need to be about online services, ICT skills, digital learning and new services and technologies that were simply not around to such an extent 10 or 20 years ago.

“This is not about buildings. It’s about the service. We want an improved service and I’m giving a pledge that this review will see an improved library service that is ready to meet the needs of the 21st century.”

Indications show that six of the 16 libraries may close but the locations will only be decided after the review, library chiefs say.

“We are not able to identify the locations which may be affected until the review is finished but we’re optimistic we will offer an improved service,” Councillor Harris added.

No indication of any job losses can be given until the process is carried out, library chiefs say.

Residents will be canvassed for their views as part of the review process.

Apart from the blatant and intelligence insulting spin from Councillor ‘Scream if you want to go faster’ Harris – whose ruling party inherited a perfectly fine library system well over a decade ago – there is the vexed question of how a service can possibly be improved by closing over a third of it. Much has, and will be said about this overt and ignorant destruction of our social heritage undertaken by people clearly not in possession of enough education to understand the vandalism they’re engaged in. That they follow the national government agenda blindly, without protest or complaint, shows well enough that the cabinet in Walsall don’t care for our borough, it’s culture, people or history. Those in charge would rather limit access to literacy and literary education for the least well off than cut the amount they allocate to consultants, councillor allowances or failed attempts at property development.

There’s an unusually harsh article on the Express & Star website about this announcement, many of the initial reader comments on which illustrate wonderfully the perils of literary ignorance.

There’s much that is troubling me about the political and civic situation in Walsall at the moment – the gaffe-prone leader with a charisma bypass, a cabinet absolutely and silently supine before their leader, a press office that looks more like communist era Pravda than a civic communication facility – but most of all, I’m concerned that there’s no organised opposition in evidence. None whatsoever.

Councillor Oliver spotted on a recent cigarette break.

Willenhall Liberal Democrat Councillor Ian Shires will probably have something to say – but since his group started this whole mess rolling by partnering with the Tories some years ago, before being kicked from under the communal duvet, any condemnation will ring pretty hollow to those with any knowledge of Walsall political history. Bob-a-job, rent a quote, lone wolf Democratic Labour Councillor Peter Smith may well draft an angry letter or two to the press, and bag a photo opportunity if he can. after all, he did ask the question that led to this statement being issued. Any opposition is good, and I would certainly get behind him for that. One thing seems certain, though – Councillor Tim Oliver, head of the Labour group – will continue to be invisible, his uniquely low refractive index similarly cloaking his group. One thing that is desperately needed at times like this is an incisive, hungry, lupine opposition with a keen eye and sharp tongue. What we appear to have is akin to a partially sighted, arthritic old labrador with room-clearing flatulence. Councillor Oliver will not engage with the media, cyberspace or the opposition. At times like this it is vital that good councillors are supported and engaged by their leader. Instead, we have a Labour group with some excellent, community focussed members – Like Brownhills’ own Barbara Cassidy – barely visible in the press, and whose voices are just not being heard.

This situation is a disgrace. The failure to engage at such a critical time is nothing less than a tragedy. Dereliction of what should be considered a public responsibility – to stand up and be counted – is allowing a right wing, ideological slash-and-burn agenda to flourish and the wildest, maddest of spin to be carried forth as fact. The opposition in Walsall – and particularly the Labour Group – need to find their voice, and find it fast. If their leader is incapable of taking the fight to the sophists and butchers in charge, then they must find one who can. This is not a time to stand idly by as our civic pride is destroyed.

What is happening now will scar this borough – and our country – for decades to come. We are allowing institutions and services that took centuries to assemble to be taken apart, almost overnight. We need people with voices strong enough to be heard, to communicate and to engage. Without them, we’re sunk.

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11 Responses to Living in a one party state

  1. Andy says:

    You could say the same thing about the national situation. Different reasons but the same result.

  2. Another Brownhills BOB says:

    One explanation of why we are suffering the perils of literary ignorance.
    Underground history of American Education
    I don’t agree with everything he says, but the book is interesting:
    The introduction is entitled “I quit, I think” on page 9

  3. themushroom says:

    Bob .
    The ruling Conservatives in Walsall have all the expertise of the council’s machinary behind them including a well funded and staffed communications department to push their messages out. In comparision the opposition in Walsall council have no comparable back-up.
    For example at Monday night’s council meeting the Labour Party had two motions, one on the scandal of low pay for social workers and the second on the abolition of EMA for students in the borough, on the agenda; both of which won support fom all the opposition paties in chamber but were lost because the Tories voted them down.
    I know that the Labour party sent out two press releases on both issues to the Express and Star and the Walsall Advertiser, both of which choose not to print those stories.
    The only issue printed by the sole Express and Star reporter at the meeting was an off the cuff reply to Pete Smith’s question on libraries.
    Either the reporter ignored the other stories or when written up, the subs spiked them.
    The Express and Star is a conservative paper in many senses, while the Walsall Advertiser seems to have given up on reporting local politics completely – unless it comes in a press release from the council. Has this anything to do with the fact that the council has threatened both papers with withdrawal of advertising at various times?

    To attack the opposition and the Labour party in particular for not getting their message out when newspapers routinely to report their views or arguments is to misunderstand the situation entirely.
    That said it has been the Labour Party recently that has higlighted the scandalous vote rigging that has gone on in the ranks of the Tories, the likes of the Lib Dems being strangley quiet.
    I suggest you challenge the editors of the local papers to do more to ensure fair and balanced reporting rather than attack the people they censor

  4. Hi Mushroom

    Sorry, I’m just not buying it. The Robertson/Cassidy motion (which I wholly support, incidentally) about Social Work Wages was publicised in a blog post on The YamYam, where it was head comment story for a couple of days, and the E&S did indeed print the story a couple of days ago (it won’t be online as it’s a Walsall story and I just can’t be arsed to root through he green bin, but it was featured). I’m 50% as to whether they mentioned the EMA motion too, as I’m familiar with it but don’t think I read it online.

    The Labour group have always suffered from a deeply conservative local press – there’s nothing new there. If one dips into the Express & Star tonight, you’ll find an editorial condemning Cameron for not being right wing enough, and a published letter intimating what the UK needs is an Adolf Hitl*r for our age. This is not a joke, and neither is it new.

    Tim Oliver is utterly failing to seize the moment and you, unfortunately, are providing a shining example of why. There is more to communicating a story than the local press. There’s the internet, where local Labour barely have a presence. Where’s the unified campaign blog? Website? Facebook? Twitter? All are free. Where are the street campaigns, protests and petitions?

    One look at Ian Shires blog, or that of Bob Piper in Sandwell – both widely read and communicative enterprises – proves that it’s easy to do with the will and motivation.

    Sadly, I’m getting the impression (as are a number of despairing contacts within local Labour) that elements of the local group would rather sit and wring their hands rather than actually do anything proactive. This is a tragedy.

    I recall reading on the much-lamented Stirrer some time ago that Walsall politics was always cursed by it’s tribalism, and remains so today. Far too much of the stuff going on in all groups is about personal axes being ground and not enough about the poor folk of Walsall who see nothing but smouldering quiescence and infighting.

    I continually rail about editorial standards in the local press here – but neither you nor I will change that, twas ever thus; the opposition need to stop making excuses and wake up, for if they do not, they’ll be as culpable as Bird & his cronies.

    Best wishes


  5. themushroom says:

    In regards the two motions on Monday, the first on Social Workers pay was proposed by six Labour councillors including Tim Oliver. yet the Express and star story made no metion of thier party. Niether did it quote the press release sent to it by the Labour Party on that subject. Instead it just did a rewrite of the motion and the officer’s report given to councillors
    As for EMA, it totally ignored it.
    Those two motions were the most hotly debated of the night but the Express and Star failed to mention either in their council report. Bad journalism or bias?
    As for the internet , yes there is a place for that but if you take for example the distribution for Advertiser of rougly 50,000 households with a readership ratio of 2.2 per copy that’s, what, nearly 110,000 people or not far off half the population of the borough. The emaphsis for anyone trying to get heir argument across therefore has to be the local press.
    The council understand this, which is why they fire off so many press releases saying what a wonderful job the current administration is doing.
    With a hostile paper on one said and a disinterested one on the other , you can’t blame the Labour party for having a hard time getting its message out.

    • Hi Mushroom.

      So, ‘there’s a place for the internet’ – but because the local papers are hostile, that’s it then? I’m beginning to understand how the tories are getting away with murder.

      Unless the Labour group get moving, get out and take the fight to the people, it’ll be lost. And it looks like they’ve failed at the first hurdle, preferring to mope about the press than engage online.

      Unless the party locally bucks up its ideas, gets into gear and adapts, we’re looking at a very bleak future for Walsall.

      We need politicians and activists with fire and a will to fight. Immediate vacancies, apply within.


  6. Well said, Bob.

    Putting out a few press releases to a “hostile” local press and then complaining that they are not published is no substitute for a meaningful opposition. The performance of the Labour group in the council chamber and in committee is what matters and at the moment and that performance is woeful.

    Labour members might be effective in their wards but given the nasty, spiteful nature of the current administration, a capable opposition should be systematically challenging every stupid, vindictive cut made by Bird and his buddies. Instead, in a vote impossible to win, Tim Oliver offers futile political posturing over the end of EMA. As scandelous as the withdrawal of EMA is, no amount of arm waving will get through to the odious Michael Gove in that there London and will not save libraries, care homes and other vital services in Walsall.

    The Mushroom seems to dismiss the potential of social media in projecting the message Labour wish to send. But the Mushroom may recall enthusiastically joining other Walsall bloggers in the unholy row that erupted when Bird tried to award himself and his cronies an increase in allowances. Bird, you might remember, backed down.

    The Conservatives might have the power of the press office, the council website and irritating tweets but even the Libdems, now a national laughing stock, maintain a web presence in Walsall with Ian Shires. His recent posts are mainly regurgitated apologies from the proposerous Libdem Voice but he does still address local issues and at least we learn something of Libdem policy. Even the ridiculous UKIP seem entertaining through the efforts of Derek Bennett. So where is the Labour message?

    We have Ian Robertson at Walsall South Labour. A noble effort, but at times barely coherant. The excellent Pheasey Views seems like an isolated voice in the wilderness and then there is Walsall South MP Valerie Vaz. She came, she saw, she conquered and then she disappeared. Why don`t you come on over, Valerie?

    Labour needs to get its act together and quick. Otherwise the destruction of Walsall will continue and will be compounded by the destruction of Britain brought about by the coalition in Westminster. All over the country, campaigns are being organised by the unions, student groups, service users and the Labour Party to protest against the cuts. Like with so many things in Walsall, if you want something, get on the 51 to Brum or the 529 to Wolverhampton.

    “Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer…”

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