I’ve asked six people if they have heard of the Gladstone Library now. The score is 6-0 against. I went there last weekend for DemFest – a festival of Democracy run by the Democratic Society. Both the library and the festival were magnificent. The former is an extraordinary legacy by Mr Gladstone, who personally wheel barrowed his 30,000+ book collection to the residential library he established.
For 364 days a year the silence or study and contemplation reigns – but for one night sound is allowed. Last Friday this took the form of 21 democratic readings. First up was a really moving set of extracts from the Declaration of Human Rights….humankind is certainly doing well at shredding them. My ignorance cascaded around me as we ventured into Paul Larfrage’s 1883 essay on ‘The Right to be Lazy’.…readings from the Levellers and Marx; James Connolly’s last statement from Dublin Castle before his execution and 16 others, including Tony Benn’s five questions that he believed those in positions of economic, social and political power should always be asked.
“What power have you got?”
“Where did you get it from?”
“In whose interests do you use it?”
“To whom are you accountable?”
“How do we get rid of you?”
Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system,” Benn explained…. Great questions from a small part of a highly stimulating event, in a truly great venue.