Public libraries are one of the great achievements of our civilisation; warm and quiet places where anyone can access learning and where even the most impoverished child can find solace in words and images higher and better than the grim reality of their lives. Which is why it’s no surprise to discover that Suffolk County Council under the austere leadership of its Osborne-worshipping sycophants and creeps abandoned them. Support was cut and cut again, but thanks to the dedication and hard work of the librarian and her team, the library in Haverhill flourished in spite of that. The computers were in constant use, volunteer helpers guiding those who had had little contact with modern technology through the internet forms and sites to access information and aid, the young found space for homework or shelter until their parents returned from work. As a councillor, I had a locality budget to be spent in my division, and each year, my first call was to the library to see if they needed help.
Each summer they organised the Haverhill Reading Challenge. Each child had to read a set number of books during the summer holiday – mainstream novels for the oldest, rag books for the littlest, all equal – and at the end of the summer there was the presentation. The mayor was there and, because of my dedication to this most precious of institutions, so was I. It was my favourite event of the year. Big blushing teenagers shuffled up to the table and accepted their certificate and badge. Little tots came up with their mums and giggled with pleasure as I shook their sticky little hands.
If you want an example of a community that works, look no further. Every race under the sun was there, parents from all across the UK, from Europe and beyond, anxious to encourage their children to seize every opportunity to better themselves, to make the most of this opportunity for advancement. I always left the library buoyed up by the experience, convinced that in spite of everything, the UK could face down its problems and come up smiling. If you would like to see a microcosm of the British at their struggling best, then look no further than this gutsy little town.
Which is why it was a good place to deploy the mood box.
We started the West Suffolk UKIP stalls just before Christmas, prodded into action by the hyperactive branch secretary for UKIP Cambs and SE Cambs. The main point was to find out what people thought about the amateurish blundering of the Prime Minister and her negotiating team. First was Brandon, where everyone had had enough and just wanted out by about two to one. That’s a subjective impression because we didn’t have the mood box. The only sour note was a young woman who strode past, refusing a UKIP newspaper and shouting over her shoulder ‘I don’t talk to racists.’ I’d normally be able to shout back ‘we don’t let racists join UKIP, not like the LibLabCons’ but when I’ve tried that recently I’ve had ‘what about Tommy Robinson?’ shouted back which is a bit of a conversation stopper. Explaining that he’s not allowed to join, he’s just an advisor, etc etc. is difficult in a market. Anyway…
Newmarket and the mood box. It’s a box with two clear plastic compartments. The idea is to give passers-by a coloured ball, and they drop it into the compartment with their preferred option, in this case, Leave or Remain. It was a majority for Leave which was heartening because before the referendum Newmarket had been the only bit of West Suffolk that was even vaguely Remain.
Then Bury St Edmunds. Lots of votes, a clear majority for “Out with no deal on WTO terms” vs. “Remain” (our options were getting more sophisticated). A couple of previously Remain voters told us that if there were a second referendum, they would vote to Leave – they believed in democracy. The result was about two to one for “Out with no deal”. It was gratifying to disprove the forecasts that old people were dying off and younger voters would all vote Remain – in fact, the proportions for all age groups seemed about the same.
Haverhill. Oh boy. Over two to one for Leave and lots of cheerful and chatty visitors — I do like Haverhill people. To encourage them to vote we were in full market trader voice, ‘roll up, vote for your country, costs nothing. Let the country hear what Haverhill thinks! Tell Mrs May how you feel!’
The Leave vote is even stronger now than during the referendum. Are you listening, England? Are you listening, Mrs May?
More than 66.6% for Out with no deal. Less than 33.3% for Remain. Haverhill has spoken.