This is my reply to Chi Omwurah, Labour Shadow Minister for Culture and Digital Economy:
We haven’t met. My name is Alan Gibbons. I set up the Campaign for the Book, which is part of the Speak up for Libraries coalition, some of whose members I believe you met. I instigated National Libraries Day. I have spent the last eight years of my life acting as an unpaid, volunteer advocate for libraries. It has cost me several thousand pounds of my own money and a huge number of hours.
I expected to have to fight Tory ministers and Ed Vaizey did not disappoint, presiding over the closure of over three hundred libraries, the withdrawal of millions of books and the removal of a quarter of staff.
I hoped for better from the Labour Party, of which I am a member, but the only real measure of support came from Andy Burnham when he stopped the Wirral libraries closures some years ago.
So, like other colleagues, we continued to hope for firm, resolute support from the Labour Party. Then it came, in the form of Jeremy Corbyn’s backing for the National Demonstration for Libraries, Museums and Galleries on November 5th.
Maybe, instead of implying he is somehow deterring the development of a progressive Labour policy for libraries, you should work with him to help build our demonstration and sharpen Labour’s backing for libraries, museums, galleries and all public services. I find your intervention disappointing in the extreme. I think it is more about your backing for Mr Smith in the leadership battle than a genuine concern for libraries.
Chi has replied and I have asked permission to publish her comment. My reply to that comment is here:
Thank you for your prompt reply. I am unaccustomed to politicians responding so quickly. Sadly, they often do not reply at all.
I believe a leadership contest in the Labour Party should be about policy. In this light, the contested and controversial nature of your relationship to the party leader, something neither I nor library users, nor indeed the public in general can verify, are secondary and subordinate to our concerns. They should be dealt with in Labour Party meetings and not aired in The Bookseller, whose purpose is to explore publishing and books. What we who have devoted so much effort to saving libraries care about is the development of policy, how to sustain a ‘comprehensive and efficient service’, redefining it if possible, how to ensure paid, trained library staff in every library, how to extend opening hours and book stock.
For eight years, library campaigners have struggled to win the support of successive Labour Ministers and Shadow Ministers. For example, it was highly embarrassing for me personally, as a lifelong socialist, to discover that the then Shadow Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey accepted an invitation to attend the 200-delegate Campaign for the Book conference while Labour was unable to field a representative.
It seems very strange that, at a time, when a Labour leader has finally given robust support to libraries with Mr Corbyn’s backing for a National Libraries, Museums and Galleries march, his Shadow Minister should comment in a trade magazine about a Shadow Cabinet spat.
I look forward to meeting you on the demonstration and discussing this face to face.