Not many crime novels have been set around elections, although people like me who live in marginal constituencies are probably tempted to murder by the persistence of party campaigners and their not very illuminating leaflets, which arrive by the bucket-load. Off-hand, I can think of a couple. Robert Barnard’s Political Suicide is very entertaining, and an old favourite of mine, although inevitably some of the political stuff now seems dated, almost 25 years after the book came out. Another example is Death By Election by Patricia Hall, a capable writer whom I’ve met a number of times and who deserves to be better known.
We are now into the last few days before Britain’s voters decide what to do with their vote at a time of serious economic uncertainty. I’ve followed the election news quite closely, but I haven’t heard anyone mention libraries. One can only assume that, whoever wins the election (and even if nobody wins, in the event of a hung Parliament, which seems quite likely at the moment) that the inevitable public spending cuts would affect libraries adversely. An alarming hint of the shape of things to come came a while back when a hung (Labour-Liberal) council on Wirral threatened to close a large number of libraries, mainly in poorer areas, where the need for them was arguably greatest. It was a deeply depressing plan and I’m glad it was scrapped. But the danger remains that local authorities of all colours desperate to save money will see library closures as an easy win.
I hope against hope that wiser counsels prevail. If we are to have a safe and contented society in this country, community bonds need to be strengthened, and this means, surely, that the steady erosion of the fabric of community life (closing libraries, post offices, pubs, village stores and local schools) needs to be reversed. I quite understand that there isn’t a limitless budget to fund the buying of books (let alone computers) but the key is to ensure that libraries remain open and accessible.
This idea that small communities are at risk from social change is very much there in the background in The Serpent Pool. It’s something that preoccupies me, and its importance is not confined to rural society; in truth cities are really collections of much smaller communities with which different, often relatively small, groups of people identify closely. I do hope that, whoever has the privilege of leading this country after Thursday’s vote, they have the wisdom to ensure that our excellent library network is preserved.