Wednesday, 11 September 2013

National Bedroom tax Meeting

I was in Manchester on Saturday for a meeting to plan the next stage of the Bedroom Tax campaign, followed by a meeting to gather evidence, attended by Raquel Rolnik, UN Special Rapporteur on Housing. I've left posting until now on her request, as she wanted us to give her time to make her preliminary report to the government.

At the first meeting, there was a lengthy discussion of the state of affairs round the country. The campaign is patchy, but in some places progress has been made, and the results are being seen in the trickle of councils committing themselves to no-eviction policies. Significant protests have been held in some cities, but there's no consistent picture. People are finding a lot of public support for the campaign.

We need to put pressure on the Labour Party; if they can be persuaded to commit themselves to repealing the tax, that will then put pressure on every Labour council across the country to institute a no evictions policy. Once the Bedroom Tax is eventually defeated, we can't just go home like we did after the Poll Tax campaign;  there are too many othe issues we also need to tackle.

Some ates were set:

Sunday 29th September : TUC March on Tory Party Conference - Manchester

From October 4th - Bedroom Tax - The TRAINing Day.
Leafletting and stalls outside rail stations across the UK.

Saturday 26th October: National Day Of Action Against The Bedroom Tax 

After a break, we moved to a bigger room for a session with Raquel Rolnik. She began by explaining her role. She's a former government minister from Brazil, working for the UN on a voluntary basis. She visits two countries a year, looking at housing issues, and is completely independent. She asks the government to invite her and the protocol is that they then do so. She prepares her report, and gives it to the UN General Assembly. Her preliminary report was given today, and despite Grant Shapps' spluttering over its contents, the procedure appears to have been followed properly, with the knowledge and cooperation of the government. Shapps' letter of complaint to the UN can be seen here. She spent a fortnight in the UK, visiting various cities to collect evidence. Written evidence may still be sent to her at , until 26 October.

A series of people then gave their testimony. What we heard was terrible, but no different from what I've been hearing over the last few months. they were videoed, so rather than attempt to summarise them, I'll give the Youtube links; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. There doesn't seem to be a Number 7. The stories are horrific, and well worth watching. Ms Rolnik's extremely forthright response is here:

She says that there is a retrogression of human rights in the area of housing; we're going backwards, and that the governent's housing stimulus will do nothing to alleviate the need. The Bedroom Tax should be stopped immediately.

When it's finished throwing its dummy out of the pram, the government will no doubt ignore the report. However, it's getting extensive cover in the Press, and won't be forgotten; htere's a good article in the Guardian, for instance. It's very much to be hoped that judges here will take it into account when considering Bedroom Tax cases, and it should make it easier to get the Labour Party to commit to repeal. Other countries are expected to take notice of UN findings, and Britain should not be an exception.

EDIT: This post on Grant Shapps' complaint includes Ms Rolnik's preliminary report. We need to campaign for all of this - not just the reccommendatin regarding the Bedroom Tax - to be implemented.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Library of Birmingham

It's an impressive building, no doubt about it. The truth, of course, is that they took the most expensive option, with the least shelf space of all the alternatives, and saddled the city with so much debt that it's going to take a generation to pay it off. Meanwhile, despite the flashy new premises, the library is suffering. I'll get back to that.

There was quite a queue to get in, which got a lot worse during the day. There were a lot of security on, and they were still there the following day. I hope they won't be a permanent feature. Inside was a stall with a team of commentators blathering on non-stop. The noise is quite distracting if you're in the fiction section at the bottom, and I don't get the idea.

Further up in the building, it's a lot quieter. Shelves aren't labelled, signposting is poor, and some of the shelving almost seems random. I can't make out why the Romans would be stuck in the middle of modern European history. These are teething problems, however. There's a lot of empty shelf space, and more books shelved, as far as I can see, than there were in the old library.

The problems emerged when I checked over the Biblical Studies section. Twenty years ago, it was good, but there isn't much to attract me now. There's the odd book; they have several on the 'Gospel of Judas', for instance, which attracted a bit of publicity a few years ago. But the heart of any Biblical Studies library will always be its collection of commentaries. To keep up, they need, roughly speaking, to buy one academic commentary on each canonical book every 5-10 years. It hasn't been happening. There are a few things, like the Anchor Bible volumes on the Apocrypha, which are useful, useful, as my own collection is pathetic on Apocrypha. But by and large, their books duplicate mine, at least where they interest me. It's not a section I'd go very far to use, and that's a pity, given that this is a major national library.

A library is only as good as its books, and despite what some are saying, books is what it's all about. If possible, there should be space for ancillary acitivities; literary groups and author readings, for instance, and a cafe (the ones in the new library are privatised, and apparently the seats are uncomfortable) where you can discuss books, or read them over your coffee. But a library is only as good as its books.

A library with national standing, such as this aspires to be, needs more than that, of course. It needs a teacm of skilled librarians, a pool of experts on every subject under the sun, to guide tham on buying decisions, and a decent budget for purchases. In five years' time, or fifty, nobody's going to come to admire the building. They'll come for the books, or not at all.

And then, of course, the collection needs to be accessible to all. It won't be if it's privatised and run for profit, as the council seems to want.