Saturday, 7 January 2023

Should Neighbourhood Democracy Be Introduced? – Part. 4 From Local Administration To Community Government 1988

 A different approach was taken by John Stewart and Gerry Stoker (Professor and Lecturer  Institute of Local Government Societies, Birmingham University) in the Fabian Research series pamphlet From Local Administration To Community Government.  (No. 351.  August 1988)

They ‘argue that local authorities have in most cases become agencies for the administration of a pre-determined pattern of services, often unresponsive to community need’. Their solution is ‘that a future government policy must be based on a wider conception of local authorities’ role as the basic unit of community government.’

They envisage local authorities ‘should be developed as units of community government which are not limited to pre-determined pattern of service but can:

·     play a strategic role in enabling communities to meet the problems and needs they face;

·     seek responsiveness in action within collective purpose;

·     extend and develop an active local democracy.’ (p.1)

The major challenge to communities and local government is uncertainty. (p. 6)

As the welfare state was developed by Labour Governments, Labour’s ‘traditions of municipal socialism were forgotten’ and replaced by a ministerial model leaving little role for local authorities as institutions capable of political choice.’(p.8)

They argue that local authorities should:

·     ‘become the expression of communities governing themselves.’

·     ‘be seen as the basic unit of community government’.

·     ensure that ‘local accountability through local democracy’ is strengthened.

They envisage local authorities are to be enablers, responsive to improve access to services, learning from the public, communicating with the public, ‘extending choice over the nature and the type of services provided’, ‘working with staff to provide a responsive service’, and ‘reviewing procedures to  ensure they assist the provision of better services’ and accountable.’(pp. 16-7 & 21)

A new management agenda is needed to ‘provide a high capacity for community learning’, to ‘express political purpose in direction’, to ‘create space for responsiveness and involvement, diversity and choice’, to ‘monitor performance to learn’, and to ‘develop and involve staff.’(p. 19)


Stewart and Stoker ‘do not believe …that the present system of local representative democracy is adequate.’ (p.21)

‘Local accountability through local democracy is at its most effective where there is active citizenship. That is most likely to be achieved through the development of participatory democracy. (p.23) They cite as existing at the time the Neighbourhood forums in Islington and Middlesbrough’s ward community councils. They point to the danger of those attending being ‘unrepresentative’, which Islington addressed through guidelines and ‘a model constitution’. (p.23)


They set out what they consider to be the lessons ‘in developing participatory democracy’.

·     ‘(L)ocal people must be given the time and opportunity to learn the skills of involvement in decision-making  this may require training and community development support;

·     (L)ocal people must be allowed to discuss issues which interest them and in which they are confident in their knowledge – the agenda must be set by local people;

·     (T)he form of meetings – time, location and degree of formality – should suit the needs of local people rather than the norms of the local authority;

·     (L)ocal parties and councillors will have to recognise the legitimacy of alternative bases of power within the community.’ (p. 24)

TThey conclude:

·     ‘that our developing society needs an active form of community government, devolving and decentralising power. (p. 32)

Manifesto For Neighbourhoods

In 1988 the National Coalition of Neighbourhoods published its Manifesto for Neighbourhoods.  It comprised 16 national voluntary organisations which believed ‘that the value and potential of neighbourhood activity within our society’ had not been fully recognised.

It argued that ‘Neighbourhood activity is the foundation of a pluralistic society; it provides a counterbalance to the concentration of power in large bureaucracies. It enables people to develop citizenship skills and is particularly important as a way of empowering disadvantaged neighbourhoods, enabling them to have more control over the decisions which directly affect them.’

It considered that to release the potential ‘central and local government and the private sector must create the conditions which enable neighbourhood groups to develop and operate effectively.’

It envisaged local authorities entering into partnerships with neighbourhood groups, decentralising services, improving consultation by promoting neighbourhood councils.

It wanted central and local government and the private sector to recognise ‘the value of local experience and the importance of involving people in decision-making’ and recognising neighbourhood development as ‘a long-term investment’.

The problem with this approach, however, is that it was very top-down, rather than a manifesto of building upwards. It fails to recognise that:

·     central government had been centralising power and control over local authorities and community and voluntary sector funding, which has become worse since;

·     that for many residents using local authority services their Council can make life very difficult for them. e.g. through housing management and social work.

·     that the private sector is so diverse that it is impossible to obtain agreement about how they make changes in neighbourhoods with minimal consultation engagement even on medium and large planning applications.

Should Neighbourhood Democracy Be Introduced? – Part. 3. Labour Social Justice, Efficiency & Citizenship

 Labour Party thinking was developed in its Social Justice and Efficiency policies report but did not link them to its Statement of Democratic Socialist Aims and Values.  Professor Raymond Plant (Politics, Southampton University) argued in his Fabian Society pamphlet Citizenship, rights and socialism (No. 531. October 1988) ‘that democratic citizenship should be the key … that ... can provide a unifying framework within which policy can be elaborated and a link to Labour’s historical  principles be maintained.’ (p.1)

He cites from Neil Kinnock’s preface to the Statement: ‘We want a state where the collective contribution of the community is used to advance individual freedom. Not just freedom in name, but freedom that can be exercised in practice’. (p. 4)

He discusses why the New Right’s claim ‘that social justice is not possible through government action and that the distribution of resources is best left to the market … do not hold water philosophically or practically.’ (p. 6) Given the size of welfare rights support and the rise in homelessness that had occurred in the 1980s ‘to rely on the market and a residual welfare state which seeks to provide only for an absolute standard of need will not provide adequate resources for democratic citizenship. Social justice is central to securing the basic goods of citizenship not just to some but to all citizens as a right.’

‘If the basic goods of citizenship should be available to all, they should be considered as matters of right and entitlement.’ However, the range of rights cannot be ‘utterly open-ended’, as it ‘devalues rights and over-extends the role of government so that the powers which it needs to protect expanding rights actually become a major threat to liberty.’(p.10)

Plant discusses  to ‘what extent should the rights of citizenship depend upon the performance of obligations’. (p.14) ‘Clearly this issue raises a deep issue again between the libertarian and the communitarian strands of socialism.’ The latter sees ‘the community as having a right to insist on obligations as a condition of some benefits of membership’, while the ‘libertarian’ will see such ideas  ‘as intolerably coercive.’ (p.15)

Plant then discusses citizenship and the market. ‘The idea of democratic citizenship is profoundly anti-capitalist: it embodies the idea that individuals have a status and a worth to be backed by rights, resources and opportunities which is not determined by their status in the market and their economic value. Their underwriting of these rights of citizenship requires collective action and politically guaranteed provision outside the market.’ (p. 16)

However, ‘the economic market is a very useful and indeed central instrument for securing socialist aims’ because of its ability to distribute ‘a vast range of goods and services.’ The market has important defects including concentrations of wealth, external effects of the environment and self-interest. (p. 17-18)

Plant ends his discussion with:

‘In the context of community it is not the function of public policy to try to create a specific form of community for the whole of society …There are profound totalitarian dangers in that. Our natures are too diverse to fit into a single pattern of life. We should, however, seek the enable people to form and sustain, where they already exist, their own forms of community which meet their needs. To do this we do need some general community spirit to sustain collective provision, but this only needs to be modest. The idea of community is beguiling but as a general idea and as a guide to policy almost wholly indefinite. People create and sustain their own forms of community, not to have them imposed upon them. Given the resources, a society of citizens, rather than individuals or subjects would be able to form their own communities as indeed they did in the early years of the socialist movement.’ (p. 20)

Should Neighbourhood Democracy Be Introduced? – Part. 4 From Local Administration To Community Government 1988 follows

Should Neighbourhood Democracy Be Introduced? – Part. 2. Crosland, Kinnock and Labour 1972-88

The idea of increasing democracy and the potential role of neighbourhood councils was discussed by Anthony Crosland in his Fabian Tract in January 1972 A social democratic Britain. He sets  set out four Labour’s objectives. (p.5)

(1)     ‘(A)n exceptionally high priority, when considering the claims on our resources, for the relief of poverty, distress and social squalor – Labour’s traditional “social welfare” goal.’

(2)     ‘(A) more equal distribution of wealth, not because redistribution today will make all the workers rich, but to help create a more just and humane society,’

(3)     ‘(A) wider ideal for social equality, involving not only educational reform but generally an improvement in our social capital such that the less well off have access to housing, health and education of a standard comparable, at least in the basic decencies, to that which the better off can buy for themselves out of their private means.’

(4)     ‘(S)trict social control over the environment – to enable us to cope with the exploding problems of urban life, to protect the countryside from the threat posed by more industry, more people and more cars, and to diminish the  growing divergence between private and social cost in such fields as noise, fumes, river pollution and the rest.’ (p.1)

He argues that growth will help achieve these objectives and participation in decision making is an important part of this.


Participation ‘should mean that the general public participates directly in decision making, and not just indirectly through its elected representatives.’ However ‘in a society as large and complex as ours, participation’ through mass meeting or the strictly local forum ‘can occur only on a limited scale’ (p.12)

He differentiates between single issue campaigns like CPAG and Shelter and that voluntary group activities ‘are on balance an enormous force for good.’ ‘They provide a badly needed element of countervailing power in our society.’ However, ‘these activities are not necessarily socialist in either content of intention’ (p.13)

He urges Labour to ‘seek ways of involving the majority in what is so far largely a minority movement; and I revert here to the concept of the neighbourhood or community council… decisions that most affect people’s lives are decisions about their locality … It is at this local level that people often feel most helpless in the face of authority. They do not want a continuous process of active participation. But they do want to be consulted about, and to influence, these decisions which profoundly affect their daily lives.’

Crosland had included in the White Paper on Local Government Reform published earlier in the year ‘the idea of smaller local or neighbourhood councils – urban parish councils.’ He refers to the work of Michael Young and the Association of Neighbourhood Councils. He concludes that ‘the neighbourhood council opens up a way forward which we should boldly take even in advance of legislation.’(p. 14)

Neil Kinnock & The Future of Socialism

Moving on another 13 years in his Fabian pamphlet The Future of Socialism. (January 1985) Neil Kinnock view flows from a realisation that Labour strategy and tactics need to adjust its values to win the support of ‘the modern working classes whose upward social mobility, increased expectations and extended horizons are largely the result of opportunities afforded them by our movement in the past. (p.2)

‘British democratic socialism is a tapestry and the thread that runs through the weave is above all a deep concern with fellowship and fraternity; with community and participation.’ (p. 3)

‘Collective provision has not been the enemy of individual freedom, it has been the agent of individual emancipation and for that reason it will occupy a central position in the forging of socialism.’ (p. 5)

Kinnock admits that past Labour ‘strategies have been incomplete, ill-thought out, and – usually – externally imposed by people who will not have to live with the consequences.’ (p.8)

His final paragraph includes tapping into ‘those civic virtues which are in effect, socialism in action-mutual care and mutual aid.’(p.12)

Should Neighbourhood Democracy Be Introduced? – Part. 3. Labour Social Justice, Efficiency & Citizenship follows.

Should Neighbourhood Democracy Be Introduced? – Part. 1. Michael Young & Labour 1947-1953


The Labour Leader Keir Starmer is promising fundamental reform to give people more control over what happens there they live. I this just rhetoric. The idea has been discussed in the Party since the end of Second World War.

‘Communal activities should be based on neighbourhoods small enough to be felt as such by the people who live in them.’

So wrote in 947 Michael Young, the drafter of the 1945 Labour General Election Manifesto. It reminds us of the enormous contribution he made to thinking about democracy and socialism within and outside the Labour Party.

He was a particular champion of Neighbourhood Councils and wrote Hornsey Plan: A Role for Neighbourhood Councils in the New Local Government (1971)

Other initiatives he was involved with were the Consumers Association, Which magazine, the National Consumer Council, the Open University, the National Extension College, and the Open College of the Arts.

Socialist Democracy

In 1947 the Party’s Research Department published Young’s Small Man: Big World. A discussion of socialist democracy.

‘Democracy … seems to require smallness. But efficiency, promoted by the growth of science, often requires bigness. This is the great dilemma of modern society.’ (p. 3) ‘How can the individual be made to matter more? How can the human advantages of the small group be combined with the technical advantages of the big?’

He suggests:

(1)     securing the right kind of democratic leadership.

(2)     establishing close two-way communication between those at the bottom and those at the top.

(3)     reducing the size of organisation wherever it can be done without harming efficiency.’

He envisages that

·      the second Labour Government should work ‘for the people to run the new and old institutions of our society, participating at all levels as active members … workers, consumers, citizens  – of an active democracy.’ (p. 4)

·      leaders should ‘(s)hare power with the people on the widest possible scale’ in between elections. .. (D)emocracy … requires a continuous two-way traffic of contribution to government from below and information about government from above.’ (p. 5)

He discusses democracy in the economy involving workers and employers in drawing up national plans, and in the workplace.

There is a section on ‘Neighbourhood Democracy’ in which he suggests that ‘(c)ommunal activities should be based on neighbourhoods small enough to be felt as such by the people who live in them.’

‘Community spirit is not something which can be created, but it can certainly be encouraged, by the right combination of necessary buildings and open space.’ He notes that community associations were springing up all over the country and that some 7,200 parish councils ‘have shown remarkable vitality in the last few years.’ (p.11)

The idea was being discussed of setting up urban parish councils as neighbourhood councils. They could have many roles under the local authority and working with existing charities. ‘The guiding principle of the neighbourhood councils would be to give most people an opportunity  to play an active part in some small democratic group additional to the family.’(p.12)

The final section of Young’s discussion paper stresses the importance of social research adding knowledge to ‘enrich socialism’. (p. 13)

Discussion Questions

Young sets out questions for discussion groups to consider.

(1)     Does the individual feel that he matters far less in the big organisation than in the small group like the family?

(2)     Do people regard the authorities of one kind and another to remote and impersonal?

(3)     When is election the best method of picking leaders, and when appointment?

(4)     If the Discussion Group were selecting (a) a candidate for Parliament,(b) a candidate for the local council, (c) a town clerk, (d) a foreman in a local factory or (e) an official in the local Employment Exchange, what sort of qualities would the members look for?

(5)     Are the wish to get more money and the fear of the sack both weaker incentives to work that they used to be; and if so, what should be put in their place?

(6)     Are there are ways in which there could be more direct contact between Government planners and the rank and file of industry?

(7)     Should there be consultation between the rank and file worker and the foreman or other official immediately above him?

(8)     What methods would the Group suggest for overcoming apathy and distrust in industry?

(9)     Should there be urban parish councils for urban neighbourhood units?

(10)Have Socialists taken too rosy a view of human nature?

It would be interesting to assess whether these questions have relevance today.

Labour’s ‘The Challenge to Britain’

How far did his thinking influence Labour policy? In June 1953 the National Executive of the Party presented Challenge to Britain to the Annual Conference.

It states ‘If local authorities are to play a still more important role in the nation’s life the organization of local government must become more efficient and more responsive to local control.’ (p. 27)

Commenting on the role of local  authorities in health services, the NEC states ‘that local democracy must be strengthened, these arrangements will be reviewed and revised.’ It did not spell out any detail. (p. 24)

It says that ‘Labour will investigate existing structure of local government and take whatever steps are necessary to improve efficiency, and to extend local democratic control of services.’ (p. 31)

Part 2 follows: Should Neighbourhood Democracy Be Introduced? – Part. 2. Crosland, Kinnock and Labour 1972-88


Sunday, 11 December 2022

Debate About The Bias and Approach To School History Teaching In The Early 1970s

 The current debates about colonial and Empire, slavery,  and the role of ethnic minorities in Britain in schools history curriculum is nothing new. Looking at the Historical Association’s journals in the early 1970s reveals not only lively debate, but all also extensive lists of books relevant for schools on these subjects.

The Problems With Textbooks

It has always been possible for teachers to include aspects of any topic they want. This was not changed with the introduction of the National Curriculum, as I argued at a discussion chaired by Ralph Samuels when it was introduced, and have been able to demonstrate in my work in schools at Assemblies and in class projects, the Nubian Jak John Archer and Black Music in Britain 1900-1920 projects.

‘History’, the journal of the Historical Association, regularly had articles about teaching history and books for schools, and general book reviews that might be of interest to teachers.

The Problem Of Textbooks

Writing in 1974 Ann Low-Beer of the University of Bristol said that in’1970 …..over  1,000 new history  textbooks of one kind or another were published. A great many other kinds of history books were published too, but it is still textbooks which sell, and which produce the greatest income for publishers. These figures are not very encouraging, and I want to discuss … the suggestion that history teaching in schools would be considerably re-vitalized if we could rid ourselves completely of the whole conception of history textbooks. (History. Vol. 59. No. 197. October 1974. p. 392)

The Importance Of Wide Reading

Low-Beer suggests that a textbook ‘as the backbone of the pupil’s learning is quite incompatible with historical method.’ ‘To impart an understanding of what history is about, it is important, at the beginning, to teach the student not to rely on any one book, and it is almost always better that he should read two.’

‘More attention needs to be given to reading as the basis of learning history.’  ‘(P)upils need very much more experience of reading a wide range of history books, including novels, biographies, narratives and information books as well as text books.’ (p. 392)

‘In schools …there has been something of a conspiracy of silence about the interpretation in school history books, while the factual side has been emphasised.’(p. 393)

‘Nationalism’ And Distortion

She particularly discusses the treatment of ‘nationalism’ ‘that is very common in school texts, and frequently results in bias, that is distortion of the facts.’ (p. 394)

‘A great many school history books, however, are unsuitable for beginners because they do not make clear in any way the relationship of the narrative they present to the evidence on which it is based. (p. 396)

Questions For Secondary School Pupils

Low-Beer sets out some ‘simple questions which most’ secondary school ‘pupils ought increasingly to be able to answer about any history book they use.’ (p. 400 – see at end of this posting.)

Pupil Dissatisfaction With History

In debate in 1970 in his essay ‘Towards A Theory Of History Teaching’ Gareth E. Jones of Swansea College of Education argues that ‘There are large numbers of young school-leavers who find history useless and boring. We are confronted with pathetic examples of how history teaching is Victorian in its concentration on rote learning. Further, we have evidence of considerable dissatisfaction among six formers concerning the relevance of their courses and the pressures of examinations.’ (p. 54)

Problems or Periods

‘Prof Elton has questioned whether history should be taught at all in school, even, presumably, at sixth form level. He tells us that history is a subject for the mature and doubts that a sufficient level of maturity exists in schools for the subject to be satisfactorily dealt with.’ (p. 55)

‘It is hardly to be  wondered at, then, that the constant attempts to justify the study of history in terms of its usefulness and relevance are fraught with danger. The attack on history is on so many levels, external and internal to the subject that it becomes impossible to disentangle the skeins of the argument.’ (p. 56-7)

‘There is much more chance of students of all ages enjoying history if they study problems, not periods….’(p. 62)

Historical And Political Education

Two years later Derek Heater of Brighton College of Education in ‘History Teaching and Political Education’ (History. Vol. 57. No. 189. February 1972) discussed the relationship between history and political education.

‘The first requirement  is for the history teacher to equip himself with the essentials of Modern Political Science.’ ‘In considering the pupils’ capacity to understand political material it is necessary to distinguish between the acquisition of attitudes and the acquisition of factual knowledge.’ (p. 60)

‘It should … be explained that Politics may be conveniently sub-divided into half-dozen major concepts, namely political ideas, their nature and effects; the institutions and personnel of political administration at the local, national and international levels; the processes of leadership and decision-making; the role of the individual in the body politic; the techniques of change, both peaceful and violent; and the nature of political conflict, both internal and international’ (p.61)

History Books for Schools

The above issues of History contained detailed listings and reviews of books suitable for schools and general reviews of books of interest to teachers. The lists cover books on Africa, Burma, China, India, Malaysia, British colonial policy, the American Colonies and the British Empire 1607-1763, anti-slavery, the American Civil War, and world history. 

Ann Low-Beer’s Questions For Secondary School Pupils

1.        Who is the author? What do you know about him?

2.        Does he have a stated purpose or point of view, or does he suggest one?

3.        What main sources does he say he used?

4.        What are the major original sources for this period or topic?

5.        Does this book tell you about any problems that are not solved? Does it tell you of any gaps in what we know?

6.        What have you learnt from this book? Was it easy to follow?

7.        Did you enjoy reading it?

(p. 400)




Sunday, 12 June 2022

Croydon Politics Under An Elected Mayor


This posting is based on my talk to the Croydon Unite Retired Members Branch on Friday 10 June.Members are active in the Croydon TUC, National Pensioners Convention and two were active in the work of the Croydon Climate Change Commission. 

The election of an Executive Mayor changes completely  changes the way Croydon Council is run.

All decision making is down to the Mayor. If the Councillors disagree with the Mayor’s proposals there has to be a two-thirds majority to require a re-think. But the Mayor can decide not to make changes the proposals will be acted upon. In other words all the Councillors can do is to delay implementation. This situation under the Tory Jason Perry would have been the same if Val Shawcross had been elected.

The likelihood of a two-thirds majority is impossible. Labour has 34 seats, the Tories will have 33 after the by-election to replace Jason Perry as Councillor being held at the end of the month, and two Greens and 1 Liberal Democrat.

Perry has announced his Cabinet but has decided that they are to be purely advisory. He is reserving all decision making to himself, other than those the Council constitution delegates to officers and those made by the semi-judicial committees like Planning and Licensing.  When I had a discussion with him Thursday last week at  a Jubilee event in Norbury he explained he was doing this in order to drill deep down into the various issues and problems he was having to consider. He is particularly concerned about the rot in the Housing Department. New problems that have been hidden from view are emerging. I did suggest to him that he would not be able to keep up that level of involvement and would have to think about when to delegate to his Cabinet members.

The context in which he is operating is the same as if Val had been elected.

(1)               He has inherited the cuts budget set by the outgoing Labour administration which was approved by the Government’s Improvement Panel enabling the Government to agree the capitalisation loan approval to bridge the gap between income and expenditure.

(2)               Any changes within the budget may have to have the approval of the Panel.

(3)               Any increase in expenditure will have to be met by an increase in income. Some extra income may result from on-going negotiations with the Government over such things as the costs of looking after unaccompanied refugee and asylum children.

(4)               Increasing costs and inflation due to the current economic crisis will require changes within the budget and are uncertain.

(5)               If he fails to deliver or messes up the Government still holds over the Council the threat of appointing commissioners to take over the Council.

(6)               The increasing deprivation of a growing number of residents because of the cost of living crisis, requiring more support from the Council and the voluntary and community sector.

There are more locally based challenges which would also have posed problems for Val.

(1)               The proposed Unite strike of its Veolia  refuse collectors and street cleaners could seriously damage confidence in him by those who voted for him. While he can pressure Veolia he is only one voice in the five Council South West London Waste Partnership which controls the contract.

(2)               The Brick by Brick scandal has not been resolved and has been highlighted in the news about the empty flats across the road in Heathfield Gardens.

(3)               The growing discontent with the management by BHL of Fairfield Halls and what to do about it.

(4)               The announcement by Westfield that it is going back to the drawing board on the future of the Whitgift Centre, which means the likelihood of any substantial improvement will not be complete for at least 5 years, leaving the Town Centre as a continuing dead zone.

(5)               The problems of trying to deliver an effective Borough of Culture programme from April next year given the top—down control approach the outgoing Labour Cabinet approved.

Perry has taken two very important decisions.

(1)               He is reviewing the draft Local Plan 2018 Review to ensure there are substantial changes before it is approved and submitted to the Government for pubic inquiry. He wants to reduce the intensification approach Labour adopted, try and stop developers only building blocks of up to 9 flats to avoid the requirement to include so called affordable housing, and drastically change the detailed design document. He is only able to do this because Val persuaded the Chief Executive to stop work on finalising the Review to enable whoever was elected Mayor to have the final word. I have asked him to ensure that the Branch’s views on the housing needs of older people are adequately reflected in the Plan.

(2)               The commitment to re-opening  Purley Pool.

Perry is handicapped by the loss of several experienced Tories who did not restand as Councillors and a lot of new inexperienced Councillors. The same is true of the Labour Group.

The failure of Labour to win the Mayor election by just under 600 votes was due to a disastrously bad campaign by the Party. The Party’s National Executive Committee has instructed the London Regional Office to supervise the Group so the elected Councillors are hampered in their ability to democratically run themselves, and be accountable to the branches in the wards they have been elected.

The new Labour Leader is Stuart King, one of the architects of the cuts budget, who works for the property developer lobby company run by Peter Bingle, the former Thatcherite Tory Councillor in Wandsworth. One of the two Deputies is Callton Young, the other architect of the budget cuts. The Chief Whip works for Steve Reed, who now effectively controls Croydon North Labour Party, to which he is meant to be accountable. King has appointed Rowena Davis as Chair of the Scrutiny Committee.. The Chair should have been Leila Ben-Hassel, who had proved herself to be a probing Vice-Chair of Scrutiny under Labour. The Vice-Chair of the Audit & Governance Committee is the new Norbury Councillor Matt Griffiths. I have advised him to seek a briefing from Andrew Pelling, who the Labour Group and Party treated badly and who was not re-elected as an independent. He is standing in the by-election, but is unlikely to be elected as he does not have the campaign machine needed.

With Councillors having no real power there is speculation that the next four years will see several bye-elections as individuals on both sides resign.

Those of us who were largely unable  to influence the Labour Council across a wide range of policies and implementation have got to think of a new strategic and tactical approach in the new situation. We cannot ignore the existence of  the Executive Mayor, even though he is a Tory. We have to try and influence him.

Priorities For Croydon's Trade Union Movement

The priorities of the Croydon trade union movement should continue to be focussed on:

·         The local economy

·         Wages and conditions

·         Really affordable housing

·         Anti-poverty and deprivation

I suggest that it:

·         raise these issues at the public enquiry on the Local Plan Review

·         set up a working party of trade unionists from the affiliated branches on the Croydon TUC with statistical skills to analyse the Census

·         use the Borough of Culture to promote trade unionism with a focus on the creative arts, poetry, films, and music, including a May Day weekend long Festival of events at Ruskin House and venues in other parts of the Borough, particularly North Croydon and New Addington.

Friday, 22 April 2022

Libraries nurture the mind of man – let’s protect our heritage - Stanley Jast at Norbury Library opening 1931


Norbury Library was due to re-open to the public after major repairs, modernisation and re-modelling on 5 January 2021 with the Mayor doing the official opening on 9 January. It was therefore a great disappointment that the new lockdown rules to combat COVID prevented this from happening.

In addition the closed hall on the first floor has been modernised and named Maggie Mansell Community Hall after the former Councillor.

The History of Norbury Library

The Library was set-up after campaigning by local residents. It was Croydon’s fifth library building in what was then the much smaller Borough area before the merger with the Coulsdon and Purley Urban District in 1965.

The residents campaign across the Borough against the early 2010s closure of libraries proposed by then the Conservative administration was defeated, and Norbury Library saved.

The management of the Library service was tendered out by the Conservatives and the management contract awarded to J Laing, which had a joint development operation with the Council which included the building of Bernard Weatherill House. Laing sold then sold the contract to Carillion, which then ran down Norbury with decreasing book stock.

When Carillion collapsed the Council took the management of the service back in house and the then Leader gave a promise that not only would Norbury not be closed but it would also be modernised.

Opening Anniversary

The 90th Anniversary of the Library’s official opening in 1931 is 30 May, at which the Anglo-Pole Sidney Jast, Croydon’s former Chief Librarian, and at the time  President of the Library Association, spoke outlining his pioneering views about the importance of libraries.

“The library was in some ways superior to life itself. We are limited by our three score years and ten, but books extend our horizon to the furthest boundaries of history, nay, and far beyond, for has not the speculative mind of man marched with the stars and written of the growth and decay of universes?”

The Campaign For a Library

The Library’s opening was the culmination of years of campaigning by local residents, especially the local London County Council Tenants Association. The Croydon Advertiser’s editorial of 6 June 1931 commented: “it required a battle to bring in the public library but nowadays there is no institution, probably, of those which are charged on the public funds more generally accepted as a boon and a blessing to men. As with other instruments of good, much depends on its administration. In this particular Croydon shines and has shone for a good while, so that we have ever with us an agency designed for enlightenment being itself enlightened because informed by the enlightenment of its administrators”.

As with all capital projects it took time from the decision to build a new branch library at Norbury taken by the Council on 14 January 1927, which included Government permission to borrow the money to buy the land and build the library. The following February it opened library facilities for all Norbury children at Norbury Manor School. The number of books issued during the first month was 2,829.

A lot of thought went into the design of the new library. The shelves were designed to ensure that no one had to stretch up to the top or stoop to the bottom. ‘The newsroom is unique in being the first to be opened with newspaper stands at which readers may sit, the slope of which the newspaper rests being adjustable to the sight and convenience of the reader’, said an observer of the time. As well as the junior library area, there was also a story hour room which children could use to do their homework.

Jast praised the progressive nature in his time of the Libraries Committee, and the ‘remarkable staff’ he had had working for him.

Jast proclaimed the importance of providing both first class and ‘rubbish’ literature, stating that: “the librarian who filled his library with only the best in literature and declined the second and third rate would speedily find […] his circulation going down by leaps and bounds, and it would be remarkable if his committee and himself were not smothered under by complaints as to the shocking supply of books. Most of us are second and third-rate people. We have second and third-rate minds and even the few who flatter themselves that they have first-rate minds have their second and third-rate moods. Our libraries must function; the public must be reasonably catered for and the basic proposition that it is better to read than not to read is a sound enough generalisation even if one only reads rubbish”.

In terms of the wider information role of libraries, Norbury had three shelves in the reference section of holiday literature, including guides and maps.

Hundreds of local people turned out for the opening despite the rain. On the first Monday, 1,200 books were issuedWithin less than three weeks 7,985 books had been issued and 3,000 tickets applied for. The junior branch had 319 ticket applications and 3,549 borrowings.

The first floor has a lecture hall capable of holding 130 people. At the opening Alderman Peter said that this was “something which had been badly needed in their part of the borough and already there had been several bookings”. The re-opening of the hall returns us to that vision.

The Edwardian Library Legacy Of An Anglo-Pole

Jast “saw libraries as a nerve centre for the development of communities. His ideas may be a century old, but some things remain the same, even as we move ahead.”

Unrecognised here in Croydon, this is the assessment of its energetic innovator Chief Librarian Stanley Jast (1898-1915), by Dan Cherubin, the Chief Librarian of Hunter College in the United States (2014).

Born in Halifax in 1868, Stanley was the son of the exiled Polish army officer Stefan Louis de Jastrzebski. Stefan had joined the Polish Democratic Society in exile and travelled on its behalf in England and France. He joined the Polish Legion supporting the attempt led by Louis Kossuth to free Hungary from the Austrian empire in 1848-9. After their defeat, many Legion members escaped to Turkey.

Kossuth toured Britain in 1850 and 1851, and visited again later in the late 1850s including addressing a public meeting in Croydon.

Stefan and his English wife had two sons as well as Stanley: Bodgan, who became a doctor, and Thaddeus, a civil servant and chairman of the Croydon Liberal Association.

Stanley simplified his name to Jast in 1895. He started as a librarian in Halifax and then moved to Peterborough. He became an advocate of the Dewey system of classification – still used today to display books – and the open access system.

He became Croydon’s Chief Librarian in July 1898 and created a dynamic service with the libraries becoming workshops for new ideas: the card catalogue, the reference Library (in Braithwaite Hall) and information service, publishing The Reader’s Index: The Bi-monthly Magazine of the Croydon Public Libraries, lectures, reading circles, exhibitions of books and pictures, and liaison with local schools. “While the revolution was in progress, an orgy of experimentation raged”, recalled a former member of his staff.

After attending the American Library Association Annual Conference in 1904, he travelled around US libraries. Inspired back in Croydon he implemented more changes: recruiting a lady typist, holding weekly meetings of senior staff, and setting up a staff guild.

He became permanent Hon. Secretary of the British Library Association in 1905, and helped to innovate national changes.

Jast provided support and a base for the ‘Survey of Surrey’ photographic project. He co-authored The Camera as Historian (1916) based on the survey’s work.

He moved to Manchester in 1915 and became Chief Librarian there in 1920. In 1931 he introduced the first mobile library in the country. His new central library project opened in 1934.

Jast As Writer And Community Activist

He was a prolific writer, his pamphlets and books covering such subjects as: children as readers, books for children in elementary schools, libraries and the community (1939).

He was also what we would now describe as a community activist, as a member of the Croydon Lodge of the Theosophical Society from October 1898 and was vice-president from February 1900. He gave many talks to it and other lodges over the years, some of which were published in 1941 (‘What it all Means’).

In 1910 he met Ethel Winifred Austin, the Librarian and Secretary of the National Library for the Blind, whom he married. She died in 1918, and he married again in 1925.

He was a founder in 1916 of the Manchester experimental amateur dramatic society, the Unnamed Society. He wrote many plays which it performed, such as The Lover and the Dead Woman, and Shah Jahan (the builder of the Taj Mahal).

“The perfect librarian does not exist

He retired in 1932. He and Millicent settled in Twickenham in 1940 where he died on 25 December 1944. Poems and Epigrams was privately published after his death. Five days before his death he sent a subscription to C. C. Fagg, the Croydon-based organiser of the newly forming Council for the Promotion of Field Studies.

His Speech At The Opening Of Norbury Library

As can be seen from his speech at the opening of the Norbury branch Library in 1931, his views were forthright.

“The perfect librarian does not exist, never has existed and assuredly never will exist. But good librarians do, and better librarians may.” (1915)

“Whence my belief that a fairly normal boy or girl can read anything that is literature without ill effects; at all events that to forbid books is likely to have effects that are worse. There is a natural disinfecting quality in the unspoilt imagination of youth.”(1928)

His droll sense of humour is best shown by what he said at the 1904 American meeting:

“The best inventions of America are librarians on the one hand and a martini on the other hand.”

As a result of Jast’s work, Croydon libraries were the model to be followed across Britain

He was an advocate of libraries, not only collecting photographs but also films about their area, which should be shown to the public. Early acquisitions in Croydon included Upper Norwood Academy of Music, the funeral of the late town clerk, and the Croydon Horse Show.

As a result of his work, Croydon libraries were the model to be followed across Britain. His innovative, forward thinking approach was made possible because of a supportive Libraries Committee, even though it had budget restraints. There is lesson here for today’s Croydon Councillors.