The library system is our democratic infrastructure, with further role as information-rich standing polling stations.

A further case against library closures.

All over Britain, libraries, sometimes the only source of community, employment and education for the general public, face imminent closure (january 2011). An American study showed that closing public libraries is a false economy. They more than pay for themselves, indirectly in the opportunities they give ordinary people. But local authorities have to go thru the motions of meeting central government cuts in their budgets, tho it is robbing Peter to pay Paul, and of less than real benefit, if the truth were known.

Villages lose their only grocers shop, their post office and even their pub. Going thru a village, sometimes the only institution one sees is the public library, a little beacon in a grey world of forbidding housing. If there is nothing left for people in the villages, they will drift even more to the towns, or town centers, causing more disruption and putting more strain on over-centralised services.

The Coalition may have to face the vedict that they have failed the public in curbing both private and public management. James Burnham's nineteen-forties thesis of The Managerial Revolution still holds.
In january 2011, a Times front page article claimed that local authorities were cutting services in such a away as to maximise their bonuses. What the private sector gets away with, does not go unnoticed in the public sector.

In my review of Fleeced!  I acknowledged Labour's modernising of the libraries that the Tories had subjected to a sustained neglect for decades.  Now that the Tories are back in power with the help of the Liberal Democrats, they are instrumental in the wrecking of the library system.

By simply cutting the budget to the county councils, they are ensuring that management will ring-fence their own jobs and cut front-line services. It was the job of central government to ensure that the reverse happened.

It is true that libraries are likely to lose their role as paper book repositories. But thanks to Labour's modernising of them, they are now well placed to take on another vital role in the infrastructure of our democracy. Politicians of all parties would really be shooting themselves in the foot if they were now to dismantle the public library system. For example, in North Yorkshire, the County Council plans to ax 24 libraries, more than half the total.

Not only do we have a Stone Age voting system with an illiterate x-vote. We also have a Stone Age ballot procedure.  All it consists of is these transient little polling stations on the day of the count, offering the least possible support to the voter beyond putting a cross on his piece of paper.

They belong to an age of acute information poverty, which there is no longer the slightest excuse for. The local polling station on polling day is still going to be needed for the foreeable future but only as an ancillary to modern standing polling stations based in the library system.

The library, as information resource, is well equipped to become a standing polling station. Instead of polling day, there could be a polling week or polling month for the whole duration of a general election campaign.

Of course that would involve a stringent security system against ballot rigging. But it would be a lot more practical than the present postal voting system, so wide open to abuse and already subject to several court cases and judicial condemnations. Postal votes can be stolen, bribed or bullied. That is not good enough, tho there must be adequate provision for the immobilised.

 A library system, with its new role of standing polling stations, offers a cheap and effective method of democratic campaigning for candidates and their parties. 

 At the moment, the Tory party heavily relies on the tax exiled funds of a millionaire targeting marginal constituencies: sheer propaganda.

Judging by their tree logo, the Tories would like to have a mass membership like the National trust.  Instead, they are afraid to reveal their membership figures. Popular support has to be earned. Wealth can be bought for political favors.

 Whereas the Labour Party is held to ransom by another ennobled fund-raiser because the party chose one brother over another. 
The Liberal Democrats are embarrassed by having been funded by a dodgy millionaire lending them his jet plane and faced with demands to pay back the money that didn't belong to him.

UKIP had their funding scandal.
The Greens got 13% of the popular vote in the European elections of 1989. I suspect that the generosity of John Cleese to the Greens was their undoing. Without that extra funding, the apparatchiks probably wouldn't have had the nerve to get rid of their charismatic leadership. That's my guess anyway. The Greens promptly sank back down to some 5% support.

The general message is that rich donors, however well-meaning, can damage your democracy.

It's taken the Greens over 20 years to recover to the extent of electing an MP. But that was done by pouring most of their resources into a few marginals, decreasing their national vote. In that, they are only following the other parties down the road of First Past The Post, which turns General Elections, so-called, into Marginal Defections.

The library system could become the political information-rich campaign-length polling station. Every library computer could have all the icons for candidates and parties on their desktop screens, with trained library staff to access information for the voters. Instead of having just the name and a party on a ballot paper, voters would have access to all the information they needed about everyone they could vote for.

Traditional leaflets could also be put on display. And candidates could hold debates and speeches there, indeed supplying electronically information to support their campaign.

Some direct democrats claim that having our own personal computers is all we need for a democracy, just voting online.  It is strange that they would do away with representatives as policy mediators, yet replace them with machines as the sole mediators of public policy.

And as has been warned by hackers, as well as leading scientists like Roger Penrose, purely electronic democracy is an idea whose time has not yet come, as one report put it. 

In any case, that is not the basic issue. People use their personal computers for personal reasons. The more skilful at computing, the more they are likely to find more personal preoccupations. Very few people will assemble for themselves information from the full range of the political spectrum.
There has to be a place for policies to gather, or indeed many places, if it is not to be completely centralised. Such a system of impartial political information does not exist online. And even if it did, most people prefer dealing with human beings to machines.

The voter, the human being, as total activist is a myth, an impossibility. We are all in a balance of passivity and activity, represented and representative. People in general will just consult their own inclinations with what time they have left over for public duties. It is not only representatives but voters also that may prove wanting.

The kind of direct democracy that only sees democracy from the point of view of the individual voting is an inadequate view of democracy. There must also be a public platform, for which the modern library system is admirably placed, which freely (or affordably) advertises the full range of policies seeking support.

Tho that in itself would not be properly effective without the effective voting system, namely the single transferable vote, which equitably or proportionally represents public opinion. With first past the post, the more candidates the more split the vote and wasted. This is just as much true of direct democracy as it is of representative democracy.

The public should not have to pay other people's bad debts.
We have all these laws of citizens rights for armies of lawyers, who fill the legislatures, to litigate themselves into gross affluence. But we cannot get the simple principle established that the general public, who have had their savings stolen for speculations, should not have to pay for the speculators blunders. And that inflation without recompense (as by adequate interest rates) is institutionalised theft.

Richard Lung.
29 january 2011.

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