Boyd Tonkin: A Week in Books

By Tonkin, Boyd | The Independent (London, England), April 29, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Boyd Tonkin: A Week in Books


Tonkin, Boyd, The Independent (London, England)


Britain's two Queens of Crime sit on opposing sides in the House of Lords. Baroness James of Holland Park takes the Conservative whip while Baroness Rendell of Babergh is a working Labour peer. Yet many readers will have found that the novels of P D James expose and expunge the secrets and lies of corrupted institutions just as radically as those of Ruth Rendell. With writers, the political citizen and the creative persona don't have to sing from the same sheet.

So the question of where voters who care about literature should make their mark next week cannot be resolved simply by reference to the private opinions of writers. And the long-term health of writing and reading in Britain surely rests above all on the twin pillars of an effective, inclusive education system and a thriving consumer economy. In those respects, the literary vote has more or less the same interests as the plumbing vote. Which is as it should be.

For what it's worth, my random samplings suggest that, if the nation voted with its authors, we would wake up next Friday to a Liberal Democrat government. However, that party has less to say than its larger rivals on the relevant branches of cultural policy. True, the LibDems promise to end the Arts Council funding freeze, which has closed the door to support for new literature projects. And they reaffirm faith in the British Council and BBC World Service: both, in their way, patrons and promoters of writers.

The book business and its primary producers do face some novel challenges. Any writer (or reader) today should be worrying about the Google scheme to digitise the world's books, and the wider online threat to traditional models of copyright and royalties that this heralds. Both Conservatives and Labour signal action on this front: the former with a commitment to new law 'necessary to tackle intellectual property theft', the latter with plans to 'modernise' intellectual property rights so as to suit 'the digital age'.

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