General confection

How will the book trade vote in 2015? Despite its sometimes patrician image, the trade—according to The Bookseller’s online poll—is now firmly behind the Labour Party, having abandoned the Liberal Democrats, the surprise first choice in 2010. This year the number of respondents planning to vote Liberal Democrat on 7th May has crumbled, with Labour and the Greens the chief beneficiaries. With 46% of the book trade vote, the Labour Party is the clear winner. Not a coalition in sight!

We might wonder if any of this matters. The 2015 general election has been almost wholly conducted in a political bubble all but divorced from the realities of today’s modern, globally aware, digitally connected, pluralistic society. I’ve met two chief executives in the past week and talked to them at length—the election never even came up. But as the Greens’ disastrous foray into the debate about the length of copyright showed, when politicians get it wrong, the results can be dire—”muddled and patronising” was how one respondent put it. That the Greens could not articulate whether its mooted 14-year copyright period was post-death or post-publication shows how closely we need to watch this. 

Our poll shows that the trade is clear in what it wants: support for public libraries and school libraries, reform of the tax loopholes that enable Amazon and other tech giants to minimise its tax liabilities, reform of the rates that cripple high street busineses, the removal of VAT on e-books and the maintenance of the tax-free status of print books. Sustainable Open Access policies for academic research (where appropriate), copyright education and anti-piracy moves, and ending austerity measures were all also cited as priorities for the incoming government, too.

We might well need to prepare ourselves for disappointment. The word “library” does not feature at all in the Labour Party’s manifesto or in the SNP’s, and only twice in the Tory version. Despite their wider social significance, only the Lib Dems and the Greens offer any kind of commitment to keeping libraries open. On rates, the Tories and Lib Dems offer reform—as the latter did in 2010—while Labour will cut and freeze them, but with no timeframe set out. All offer to crack down on corporate tax avoidance . . . as they have done before.

And yet with sales of political books up 111%, and titles from the likes of Owen Jones (and more widely Russell Brand) helping to redefine the political climate in a way our national newspapers now do not, the book trade may be having a better election than the politicians. 

As far as national conversations go, books lead the way—now is a good time for the politicians to remember this. A little less meddling and a little more action, please.