09 May 2014
Forget the detailed policy documents: the book industry needs to devise the kinds of messages that can be advertised on mugs and t-shirts if it is to impress political parties in advance of the next election, was the message from Harriet Harman at the Publishers Association (PA) annual general meeting yesterday (8 May).
Harman - Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport as well as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party - was responding to a question from Penguin Random House Chair Gail Rebuck (who, 20 years ago, published Harman's The Century Gap, a moderate seller). Rebuck had outlined some of the issues concerning the book industry: copyright, VAT on ebooks, disappearing libraries, the disappearing high street, the UK's poor literacy figures. Could she press for some details about what Labour would do about them? Harman replied that the industry should approach her and her colleagues Chuka Umunna (Business) and Tristram Hunt (Education) with its "dream programme". The Labour party required the kind of statement on books and the arts that would be persuasive "on a windswept doorstep in a marginal constituency". Click here for the full article
Nicola Solomon of the Society of Authors offered one simple policy: give school libraries the statutory status afforded to prison libraries. Make book provision and author visits targets that Ofsted inspectors could note.
On this and other issues, Harman gave supportive but non-committal replies. Stephen Page of Faber asked whether a system under which government could decentralise the blame for library closures could be reformed, and how a government could ensure that local authorities adhered to their commitments to libraries under the Public Libraries Act of 1964. Harman replied that the Labour party was working with local authorities through a creative counsellors network, which would strengthen the partnership between central and local government. She noted that Labour candidates in the forthcoming London elections all included library policies in their manifestos. And she said that library policy required a "bold leap", such as the one that had produced the library at Canada Water - "a thriving hub".
Another question concerned the National Curriculum and the last Labour Government's notoriously prescriptive targets for schools. Harman said that she stood by some of the targets that had been set, but implied that there might be more emphasis on the work of inspectors.
Earlier, Harman said that creativity should be "at the heart of the curriculum", and moreover that Labour leader Ed Miliband wanted creativity "to be at the heart of our offer". Telling a PA AGM what it wanted to hear, she said that "protection of [IP] ownership is in the public interest" - it was not simply a matter of balancing the private interests of producers and consumers.