Arts & Leisure Provision - Victorian Values
"Would the Chair of Arts & Leisure consider applying Victorian values in any way to Arts & Leisure provision in Reading?"
REPLY by Councillor Sutton (Chair of Arts & Leisure Services Committee):
"The question is intriguing. Of course, the Thatcher-Tebbitt spellcheck please notion of Victorian values was based on a biscuit-tin-lid view of history, and it was easy to tease barmy Thatcherites with the Victorian values of child labour, prostitution on a scale comparable with US-ruled Saigon, or 13 as the age of sexual consent (presumably Conservative MP's "assistants" were younger in those days).
But there were other Victorian viewpoints and debates which are still remarkably topical today - in particular, the nineteenth-century debates on public parkland and on spending ratepayer's what, there was only one? tsk money for the benefit of the community. I think that we in the present administration of Reading have something in common with the Victorian city fathers, who were so dedicated to creating new parkland and to preserving it in perpetuity and who (like George Palmer) devoted years of their lives to pressing the case for spending public money on the Manor Farm sewerage scheme.
There is a continuity between those who created and covenanted fine parks like Kings Meadow over a hundred years ago, and our own successes in bringing new open space into public ownership - at Kensington Road, the Coal, King's Road Garden, Circuit Lane woodlands, Dean's Farm and King's Meadow Extension.
And there is a continuity between the thinking which finally led to decent sanitary provision in the town in the 1870's (after decades of neglect and epidemic) and our own commitment to the provision of the highest quality of public services for the benefit of all the community, but especially for the benefit of the disadvantaged.
There is also a continuity in the mean-spirited opposition to this sort of commitment. As Councillor Sulley knows, for much of the time on the Arts and Leisure Committee the opposition could easily be replaced by a parrot trained to squawk "It costs too much". This is the recent response to the excellence of almost any of the services that we provide - whether in children's play, in the arts, in the maintenance of our parks, in our programme of festivals, our theatres, or our museums. It would all have sounded very familiar to poor old George Palmer, who had to labour for decades against the so-called "economizers" of the 1850's and the 1860's. These Victorian economizers preferred to have the poor dying of cholera in the courtyards of Silver Street and London Street rather than invest in municipal sanitation.
I see a miserable continuity between Reading borough elections in 1858 and 1859 in which, notoriously, three "anti-sewerage" candidates were returned, and the elections in Minster and Kentwood Wards in 1992, which brought our own niggardly parrots back here squawking to roost.
Victorian values as a whole were squalid, sexist, racist, hypocritical, prurient, oppressive, brutal, warmongering, chintzy, huzzah! let's all go to IKEA, that'll learn 'em bourgeois, mean-minded, and well worthy of Mrs Thatcher's support - but there are a few aspects of Victorian thinking which we still value today."
Comments please peeps, I am having too much fun to stop now.