Saturday, 29 March 2014

Strood Library

Earlier today the 'usual suspects' within Medway Labour went on a march under a banner to 'Save Strood Library'. Anyone would think the library was under threat of closure, especially after reading tweets from one of their number that started off saying precisely that.

This, of course, was typical Labour deception, as the plan by Medway Council is to move the library to a a more central (and, probably, better) location than where it is at present, somewhat tucked away. In reality, it is Labour councils that have been those most liable to close libraries, including the recent case by Brent where a 'pop up' library was closed, demolished and the books dumped in the street.

When I mentioned this to that Medway Labour tweeter, her (lame!) reply (not actually written as a reply to me, but I found it anyway) was simply that 'we are not in Brent' – and, I have to say, we can at least be extremely grateful for that!

Labour's contention is that 'the people don't want the library to be moved' – and I wonder how true that is. At meetings of the full Medway Council, a regular army nowadays invades the public gallery, as I have mentioned in my reports on those meetings. These turn out to be what is known as a claque, comprising those who are one or more of (a) Labour party member/activist; (b) public sector worker; (c) trade unionist.

They seem to have had at least some level of rehearsal prior to the meeting, but have been known to surprise a Labour councillor when speaking by missing their pre-arranged cue on occasion. The face of the speaker and his/her body language at such moments is something to treasure...

Thus those making a lot of noise (as they do: a mob-handed rabble, one could say) clearly cannot be said to represent 'the public view'.

Okay, so how about the petitions handed in at these meetings? It's hard to say; but it depends on how the petitions were 'sold' to those they were asking to sign them. We already know that Medway Labour have been trying to portray this as a 'closure' and thus a loss of the facility altogether, as their banner and tweets show very clearly; but I also have on file first-hand accounts from those among my network of 'eyes and ears' of how they have been getting signatures for petitions in the past.

All political parties use petitions from time to time, by Labour really love them as they can be used to give a misleading impression of public opinion to Labour's advantage. For example, some years ago when the then Labour government required significant changes to adult residential care facilities, necessitating large-scale rebuilding work, the unavoidable move of residents brought out the local Labour petitioners.

They were 'selling' those moves as a full closure of those places, as (I kid you not) the elderly and handicapped/disabled residents would be 'thrown onto the streets'. I could name three former Labour mayors who were all witnessed making that claim. Therefore I cannot automatically accept as valid any of their petitions or even others where they have been scaremongering through their perennial dishonesty.

Indeed, looking at the present and proposed locations for Strood Library, I cannot see why it  should not be welcomed by the public. As I have observed over the past decade and a half, the High Street where it is intended to go is a healthily bustling area (in fact it's one of my favourites in the Medway Towns, because of the sheer life there) and with sveral 'bus routes stopping close by. That is not the case where it is now.

I anticipate increased footfall at the new location, should the move go ahead, and the concept of having it as part of a 'community hub' – which has worked well elsewhere – is a good move too, aiding its long-term viability even in the Information Age when libraries are struggling to justify their ongoing existences as stand-alone operations, shouldering all their overheads alone.

Although any move of a facility in a heavily built-up, predominantly residential area is inevitably going to result in winners and losers, my own familiarity with the area (especially after years of campaigning, walkabouts and other visits to both the north and south halves of urban Strood) strongly indicates that what is intended by the council will not only be a way to make the library's future more secure in these difficult (for libraries) times, but will be significantly better overall. Better 'bus access, much more parking, and many people will already be in the vicinty routinely – what's not to like?

Medway has been very good with its libraries, especially the modernisation plan devised by former councillor Wes Hollands and his (political and officer) team some twelve years ago, and I have visited a number of them and been present at the opening of a few (most notably Chatham and Thomas Aveling School) – I even ended up taking the official mayoral photographs at one when the mayor's camera developed a fault on the day(!) I know how good we are here, in this arena, and so do the real public.

Now, based on discoveries made at other council-owned facilities in the past, and other attempts to use specifically Strood for party political purposes, I have my suspicions about what this opposition to the proposed move by the local Lefties is really all about, and why they are so keen to maintain the status quo – but that is something for another occasion...

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