Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nice Rhetoric, Shame You're Such A Berk

With the year drawing to a close it's time to get off the fence and finally announce the recipient of the 2008 Scunner Broon Award for Stupidest Political Quote Of The Year. As has been discussed previously, it's been a difficult one to judge, what with the number of exceptional individual candidates, the broad body of work of Sarah Palin and, ultimately, a winner whose reason for opening his big trap in the first place was an issue I fielded complaints about.

Investment in the library service has been one of the Liberal Democrats' proudest accomplishments during our time running Cardiff, with two new libraries built, one under construction and three planned, in addition to four refurbishments. The crowning glory of that investment will be the new Central Library, a replacement for the old library whose site now forms part of the St Davids 2 development.

As plans for the move, first to a temporary facility and then to the new building were developed, the status of the library's various special collections had to be considered. These collections, amounting to a total of some 18,000 items, were largely uncatalogued and unsuitable either for general use or for housing in general library facilities. Retaining the whole of the special collections would cost £2-3million (or to put it another way, 2-3% on Council Tax), approximately the same as their commercial value.

The commercial value matters because the powers that central government in its usual patronising fashion deigns to bestow on the council are quite unsentimental. As far as the law is concerned, these collections are an asset and as such, the council is required to achieve the best value if that asset is to be disposed of. As a result, in January 2007 the Executive (in a public meeting, no less) decided to seek a specialist auctioneer to sell those elements of the special collections that were not of specific local or national interest or in the Welsh language. The Minister For Smoking In The Eli Jenkins was fully appraised of the plan and raised no concerns.

Eighteen months later the first tranche of items was sent to Bonham's and duly appeared in a sales catalogue, at which point all hell broke loose. Academics protested to each other and to the council, the opposition groups on the council claimed they were duped, Private Eye got on its high horse and the now conveniently Minister For Not Smoking In The Eli Jenkins announced that he was in fact concerned and that discussions should take place between interested parties. Which is where we are now, with a group of interested parties from academia and heritage organisations working to identify those items that should be retained.

But where you may ask is the moment of utter verbal lunacy? (And more importantly, would you mind hurrying it along, you've already wasted plenty of my time going on about the minutiae of library administration...)

The important detail in all of this is that the Minister For Not Smoking In The Eli Jenkins is a member of Plaid. And as part of the unique constitutional settlement that Plaid seem to have developed with One Wales (you know, the one that goes “this Plaid is fictitious and any resemblance to Plaids that are members of the government coalition is entirely coincidental”) any statement by a Plaid minister must be accompanied by one from a Plaid backbencher in order to ensure deniability.

In this case it fell to Chris Franks, AM for South Wales Central (The bits that Leanne Wood doesn't give a s**t about) to respond for the 1974 Committee with this little gem;

“Cardiff is the only European capital city without a National Library or National Archive”

And this is the nub of the matter, because a large proportion of the special collections were donated to the then town in the late 19th Century in order to bolster Cardiff's bid to house a National Library of Wales. After a long and bitter battle, Cardiff did not succeed.

Because Aberystwyth did.

As a quizzer, I am rather unforgiving of ignorance of fairly basic facts, particularly ones that have actually been the subject of questions on University Challenge this year! As a student of semantics in politics, therefore, I am especially unforgiving of statements like this that grasp the nettle in rhetoric, only to let go at the first sign of reality.

So Chris Franks, for boldly asserting in public that a major national institution should be uprooted from Plaid's top Westminster target seat and relocated to Cardiff, the Scunner Broon Award is yours.

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