The Big Questions: Is the 50p tax rate a good idea? Do libraries still matter? Is Ukip electable?

This week answered by Labour peer and chairman of the British Library, Baroness Tessa Blackstone

Share

Is reintroducing a 50p tax rate a good idea?

Yes. We need a progressive tax system in which those with incomes of more than £150,000 make a greater contribution to paying for our public services. It affects only about 1 per cent of taxpayers and they will not have to pay a 50 per cent rate on all their income. Why are they complaining? Should they not feel some obligation to helping to promote a fairer society from which everyone benefits?

Was there ever an argument for not accepting some of the most vulnerable refugees from the Syrian conflict?

No. The Government claimed that it was more important to contribute to helping the several million refugees in the camps in neighbouring countries or those displaced within Syria. I have some sympathy with this position, having visited the camps in Lebanon last year and seen the appalling conditions. I applaud the Government for pledging more aid than most other countries. However, it is not either aid or accepting some of the most vulnerable refugees in the UK. We need to do both.

Banning smoking in cars carrying children: a reasonable protection of child health or unenforceable infringement of liberty?

Protecting children’s health should be one of our highest priorities. There is irrefutable evidence that the inhalation of cigarette smoke in confined spaces such as cars damages children’s lungs. Most adults know this and would not dream of smoking in a car with a child in it; sadly some still do. This week’s vote in the House of Lords to ban it is a victory in the interest of our children, not an infringement of liberty. If we can enforce a ban on drivers using mobile phones, we should be able to enforce the smoking ban.

If Buckingham Palace is overspending, should the taxpayer be upping its funding?

No. The Royal Household needs to find ways to increase its income and cut its expenditure through greater efficiency without asking the taxpayer to contribute more. The Public Accounts Committee under Margaret Hodge’s brilliant chairmanship is right to suggest that large increases in income are possible through opening Buckingham Palace to the public on many more days in the year. Expensive luxuries which are infrequently used, such as the royal train, need to be cut.

Michael Gove continues to upset the teaching profession, and now he has upset the chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw. How do you assess his period in office as Education Secretary?

I admire his single-mindedness and his courage. If only these qualities were applied to more acceptable objectives and accompanied by a greater willingness to listen to advice from experts, who know more about education than he does. He is right in trying to drive up standards but wrong in focusing so much on questionable innovations such as free schools, which will have little effect on the system as a whole. These schools will fail if many of the teachers in them are unqualified. Politicians should not interfere in the curriculum. He does. Without engaging teachers his reforms will not last. Educational change cannot happen via edicts from the top.

Nigel Farage has complained about the “Walter Mittys” in Ukip. What might this mean for Ukip candidates’ electability?

Any political party with a leader who dismisses its own parliamentary candidates as fools or charlatans will ultimately fail. If his colleagues are of such poor quality, why doesn’t Nigel Farage spend more time on their selection? Fundamentally his problem is that his ridiculously shallow agenda is unlikely to attract good people to stand for Ukip. Some of the electorate may be taken in by his crude populism, but once he is exposed to the tough scrutiny of a general election, many will not be.

You are chair of the British Library, whose big 2014 exhibition looks at the art of the comic book. What can comics do that other literature can’t?

Comics combine the power of the written word with that of the visual arts, while creating something unique. Comics such as V for Vendetta illustrate how politically significant they can be; they can be utterly escapist too. They have had a large cultural impact and continue to do so, particularly as they adapt so neatly to digital publishing. The Library’s collection of UK comics is vast, and we will celebrate them this summer in our exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK from 2 May to 19 August.

Nearly 300 local libraries have closed over the past two years because of budget cuts. With internet access all but ubiquitous, does that matter?

It does matter. Public libraries provide many valuable services besides internet access. In any case, some parts of the country still do not have access to high-speed broadband. Eighty per cent of users surveyed said the support provided in libraries improved their level of understanding of online information and 70 per cent said it improved their online knowledge and skills. Public libraries are also used by primary schools to help young children acquire the habit of reading, and to learn how to borrow books regularly. Older pupils are able to study in them without distractions. Libraries provide many advisory services for adults including on ways of accessing information from different sources as well as from the internet. For example, the British Library has linked up with six big city libraries to help entrepreneurs wanting to start new businesses.

Baroness Tessa Blackstone is a Labour peer and chairman of the British Library

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
Tessa Blackstone
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup