Manchester, home of the Co-operative movement, was an appropriate host for an event on the future of the mutual model of ownership, held jointly by Progress and the Co-operative Party. Around 70 people filled a room at Manchester Town Hall to participate in the debate and enjoy fair-trade refreshments courtesy of the Co-operative Group.
Minister for the Cabinet Office Tessa Jowell was visiting the North West to learn more about mutual ownership models in public services, following her December speech to Progress which announced the creation of the ‘Commission on Ownership’, which will look to promote mutual ownership in public services. Tessa confirmed she had identified social care, SureStart, and housing as areas likely to benefit from an expansion in co-operative ownership.
General Secretary of the Co-operative Party Michael Stephenson agreed with Tessa that this could be the ‘mutual moment’. The credit crunch, the renaissance of the co-operative movement, and a growing recognition that neither centralised state-monopoly services or profit-driven privatised services are providing the quality public services we require; have all contributed to this ‘mutual moment’. Government needs to get on with the job of allowing more mutualised public services to flourish, combat the fears of trade unions about alternative ownership models, and force the Treasury to stop treating mutuality as high risk and untested.
Chief Executive of the Co-operative Group Peter Marks agreed that this is the time for mutuality. Only since the credit crunch has the mainstream begun to question standard business ownership models. The public are beginning to examine mutual models – witness the rise in interest in building society savings accounts. The question posed for the mutual sector is: is the mutual model credible? Four years ago Peter would have said ‘no’. For decades the Co-operative Group had declined steadily, reducing its share of the food market from 40% in the 1960s to 4% today. Only recently has the Co-operative Group reversed the decline, and started to flourish again. The co-operative model does not equal success on its own – it has to be efficiently and rigorously managed.
Finally Phil Arnold gave a personal perspective from his role at one the country’s first mutually-owned schools, in Reddish Vale in Stockport. The school is one of the most improved in the country, and an excellent example of a successful mutually-owned public service.
A questioner asked what was the biggest barrier to expanding the mutual model of ownership. Michael Stephenson said civil servants, Tessa Jowell argued it was a variety of vested interests, whilst Peter Marks thought the Co-operative movement itself could be the biggest barrier to expansion in public services.
Another questioner controversially stated he believed the Co-operative movement was a minority interest appealing to the well-intentioned and well-heeled. This sparked some interesting debate, with most agreeing that most Co-operative organisations boast a varied and reflective membership. Peter Marks pointed out that he is still kept on his toes by the scrutiny of the Group’s regional boards – a truly democratic process.
Tessa concluded the discussion by exhorting Mancunian activists to get talking about and campaigning for mutualism. It will be an important theme of the coming election, and we need to ensure this inherently Labour concept can flourish further in the future.
Last night saw this year’s final Progress lecture on ‘New thinking for Britain’s next decade’. Given by the Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP, secretary of state for the cabinet office, the lecture entitled ‘The Mutual Moment’ which set out the government’s plan to found a new independent commission on ownership, chaired by Will Hutton, which will work to enhance our understanding of the influence that ownership has on the governance of Britain. Read the full speech here.
The question and answer session showed a large amount of support for Tessa Jowell's proposals, but the question on everyone’s lips was, how do we put this idea into practice?
One member of the audience raised the point that this was not the first time such and initiative has been put forward and how was this going to be any different to previous initiatives. Tessa Jowell responded that this was about modern mutualisation, which is very much in tune with what the public want. The Minister for the Olympics admitted that in the past Labour may have avoided the topic for fear of being branded with the iron of nationalisation. However following the credit crunch she said the time was right to reopen the debate, reiterating the point that she is to be meeting the Rt Hon Ed Balls MP, Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP and other ministers in the new year to discuss how some of the elements under their remit such as Sure Start, could be transferred into the hands of mutuals. Though making it clear that this was not a cure all solution, it was a compelling point and it should be given enough time for proper debate.
In the final moments of the lecture Tessa Jowell was asked a question about the role for possible mutuals in the BBC. The question was asked whether the BBC Trust would be turned into a mutual, and therefore result in ordinary people being elected to the board as is the case in other mutuals, as at present the BBC Trust board is un representative of its stakeholders, the British public. The former culture secretary said that she would have to decline to comment on that point as she was no longer culture secretary. However she stated that she was sure that the point would be addressed alongside a wider debate on the running of the BBC.
In conclusion Tessa Jowell’s lecture raised a point that both the Co-operative party and Progress have been pushing (see Progress editorial ‘A Mutual Moment’) for some time. As Jessica Asato, Acting Director of Progress, said in her introduction, ‘clearly great minds think alike’.
In a speech to Progress last night Tessa Jowell launched an exciting new Commission on Ownership which will look at extending the mutual model of ownership into public service provision much further than just Co-op schools and Foundation Hospitals. In her speech she said that there was a “fundamental difference” in Labour’s approach to public services compared with the Tories. She said: “Instead of learning lessons from the Co-operative and John Lewis, Tory local authorities - which David Cameron offers as a model for how the Tories would govern - have decided that their model of public service delivery is the budget airline.”
She continued: "in the hands of the Tories, the principle this appears to
encapsulate - that ability to pay should determine the level and
quality of the service - is not how most of us think care of the
elderly or children's services should be delivered.
It is also far removed from the principles of mutualism - of
collective action as a means to fulfil individual aspiration, of
equity, democracy and accountability."
Sir Jeremy Beecham, Leader of the LGA Labour Group, said in response to the welcome news: “Today’s judicial review ruling against Barnet Council is a welcome defeat of the reckless Conservative approach to slashing public services which people depend on.
"Barnet Council has adopted a cost-cutting programme dubbed the ‘easyCouncil’ approach after the budget airline, which provides basic core services while higher levels of provision cost residents more.
"Residents of Barnet are being subjected to the trail of a ruthless approach which reduces local services to a minimum and adds extras only at a cost. This hits vulnerable groups the hardest, who have to pay more to receive much needed support. Not only is this approach economically and socially unsound, but today it has also been found to breach the law.
“This decision should send a clear message to Cameron if he’s listening – people will simply not accept local government renouncing responsibility for vital services, and he should think hard before adopting such an approach nationally. Labour’s plans for John-Lewis-style partnerships locally, on the other hand, should give people a real stake in their communities and a clear role in taking decisions on local services and priorities”.
Looks like Labour is finally developing its dividing lines on public service reform…
Some of you may have read the latest edition of Progress magazine which carries a striking image of a gagged woman standing outside Parliament to illustrate a brilliant piece written by Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, on why we need to reform England’s awful libel laws in the interests of social justice.
I have to say that I’ve only recently woken up to the fraught and decades-long debate about our libel laws after Progress was served by Carter-Ruck and had to face the ignominy of crumbling in front of a legal giant with a powerful client, or trying to find the thousands of pounds it would have required to hire lawyers and fight the action. Shame and spinelessness it was. There was no way a tiny publishing outfit like Progress, even with the impact we have, could have stumped up the money to fight Carter-Ruck. And so it is with many organisations from football fanzines to small independent publishers. Even bigger outfits like the New Statesman pull investigative journalism because they can’t bear the extortionate cost of fighting a legal action.
At the launch this morning of a petition by The Libel Reform Campaign which is supported by English PEN, Index on Censorship, Sense About Science and other organisations, John Kampfner, former Editor of the Statesman quoted a Fleet Street editor who had said “lay off the oligarchs – we can’t afford it”. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science fame explained that even when you win a libel case, it ends up costing you. Goldacre’s case against Mattias Rath, a chap who seems to think his vitamin pills can cure HIV better than AIDS drugs, ended up costing the Guardian £170,000 even after their costs were paid. But it isn’t just the cost which worries most campaign supporters, it’s the fact that it means certain discussions – around pharmaceutical companies for example – take place in a culture of fear. Instead of thinking, and writing, freely, authors start by worrying about framing what they say so they don’t get stamped on with that Orwellian boot. As Goldacre put it “It’s the censorship that happens in our own heads which is the danger”.
A number of luminaries have signed up to the campaign including A C Grayling, Nick Cohen, Ben Goldacre, Monica Ali, Ian Hislop and Stephen Fry. One of the other panel speakers this morning, John Micklethwait from the Economist, set out the changes we need:
Reversing the burden of proof in libel cases so that the plaintiff has to prove the defamation
Extending legal aid to cover libelPossibly putting a limit on costs
Resort to the courts only permitted when external redress has been sought and exhausted
Introducing a public interest defence.
There will inevitably be discussion about whether we need all these changes and how they will look exactly in law, but Denis MacShane MP who has campaigned for changes to libel ever since he was President of the NUJ said that the next step must be to get the changes into Parliament, and quick. He criticised Jack Straw for suggesting in the New Statesman that he was going to be radical on this, but instead of pushing for legislation made the brave decision to set up a committee. Apparently Lord Leicester has said he would be willing to introduce a libel reform bill in the Lords, and there is always the chance that we will be able to persuade political parties to include reform in their manifestos. Meanwhile, Progress is urging its supporters to sign up to the campaign and to write to your MP to support EDM 423.
As the scope for citizen journalism grows with the expansion of the internet and print journalism wanes, the power of wealthy individuals backed by ruthless lawyers will become ever greater. This threatens our right to genuine freedom of speech – a right which we have got used to taking for granted. Reform of libel law is something all political parties can unite upon in a spirit of Christmas peace, let’s try and make them act on it.
Yesterday Jack Straw the Justice Minister spoke as the latest speaker in Progresses ongoing lecture series on New Thinking for Britain’s Next Decade. The lecture chaired by Jessica Asato, Acting Director of Progress, focused on Labour’s achievements since 1997, the main differences between Labour and the Tories, and constitutional reform. Read full speech here.
Jack Straw stated that although the political divide at times may seem opaque, the ideological divide is still as clear as ever. The parody of the left by the right is that that the democratic left stood for equality of outcome. The former foreign secretary stated that the democratic left did not stand for equality of outcome, but equality of opportunity and equality of capability, and this must be done by further investment in education. However the pursuit of equality of opportunity must be paired with reduction of crime. The former home secretary stated that crime reduction was a necessary element to creating higher standards of education and therefore increasing the equality of opportunity. He stated that where the previous Conservative administrations had failed, anti social behaviour, violent crime, education etc, the Labour government had succeeded.
The justice secretary then moved on to the much talked about area of constitutional reform. Laying his cards on the table Jack Straw immediately dismissed the idea of Proportional Representation (PR) as an electoral system in the Westminster elections. Jack Straw stated that he believed that PR would fundamentally undermine UK democracy, as it would allow walk governments with poor mandates to rule for decades and make it almost impossible for the people to remove them. He argued that the arguments for PR are entirely false, the PR system would not put more power in the hands of the people, it would create a tyranny of the minority. However he stated that although he thought that the First Past The Post electoral system was the best, he was not entirely opposed to the Alternative Vote system as suggested by Gordon Brown. He conceded that there was a need for constitutional reform but PR was not the way. He said that he believed there should be more done to get the people involved in the legislative system and give them a sense of agency about politics. He stated that the government must look at a variety of programmes from the Swiss plebiscite system to New England style town hall meetings.
In the question and answer session Jack Straw was asked what his vision for the next 5 years. The former home secretary stated that he would like to see 100% of school leavers with 5 GCSE’s, better life expectancy, a reduction in antisocial behaviour, and finally that he would like to see a fully elected House of Lords. He also reiterated his call that we must find a way of getting more people involved in politics so that they will have a feeling of power over their lives.
In conclusion Jack Straw stated that we must communicate Labour’s many achievements to the people. Indicating that it was all very well talking about Labour’s achievements in an intellectual manner he said that we must learn to express our achievements and the differences between Labour and the Tories in simple language, using a phrase one of the audience members used, the Tories put money first, Labour put people first.
Last night David Miliband the former environment secretary, and current foreign secretary spoke along with Emily Thornberry MP and Andrew Pakes, chair of SERA, in a joint Progress-SERA event chaired by Rachel Reeves on the Progressive road to Copenhagen.
David Miliband started by saying that the proposed deal at Copenhagen needed to be ambitious, fair and most importantly effective. He claimed this deal could only be made by progressives. He admitted that a deal at Copenhagen would be difficult to achieve but he was in high hopes that a deal would be struck.
The foreign secretary said that although the Conservatives now appear to accept the issue of climate change and that extreme action is needed to avert disaster, it was the progressive left who were best equipped to deal with the issue.
The ex environment secretary stated that he believed that there were five reasons why the issue of climate change was a progressive issue rather than a Conservative issue: 1. Climate change requires a radical progressive solution 2. There needs to be a radical progressive shift from high carbon to low carbon. 3. In order to stop climate change we need to control the markets, something which Conservatives are ideologically opposed to. 4. Climate change is not only an environmental issue it impacts over a wide range of areas, financial, institutional and most importantly on social justice. As climate change occurs the worst hit are the poorest nations and to help combat this we need a community approach not individualist approaches as conservative ideology implies. 5. It is an international and European issue not a domestic issue.
He also stated that the Labour party and Britain should defend its record on climate change with zeal. Britain is one of the only countries to exceed our Kyoto targets, and one of the only countries to promise to reduce our CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. He claimed that Britain had led the way on issues of climate change, through the backing of the European emissions trading scheme, and tprogrammes like warmer homes.
The foreign secretary ended by saying that the west must take the majority of the burden as we are in the position to do so, and that, in order to combat climate change, business, the public and government must work together.
When asked about the likelihood of a deal being reached, he said he and the rest of the cabinet were hopeful that a political agreement would be reached that could later be transposed into a treaty that all parties can sign up to.
One of the key areas of David Miliband's speech was that in order to effectively combat the effects of climate change there is a need for public cooperation. In the question and answer session the foreign secretary stated that he did not believe there was enough public urgency on this matter, but that it was the governments role to show leadership on this issue and provide the public with a sense of agency. Finally he said that it was vital that this issue had public staying power.
Yesterday, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister and Scottish National Party leader announced is his parties legislative programme for this parliamentary session. The centrepiece of the programme was the SNP’s white paper on Scotland’s constitutional future. Alex Salmond said that although the people might not share his parties view for Scotland’s future, the SNP had been elected with a popular mandate to ask the question of Scottish independence and they must let the people speak, in his speech to the Scottish Parliament.
In his announcement the Scottish First Minister said that he believed that there was a consensus for change on the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future, a belief that is seemingly not shared by his opposition colleagues. The white paper announced has risen out of the SNP’s national conversation on the issue of Scotland’s constitutional future, and will canvass four possible options for the constitutional evolution of Scotland: 1. The Status Quo 2. The Calman Commissions recommendations – this would see minor changes to devolution and possible tax powers given to the Scottish parliament. 3. Devolution Max - The Devolution Max option would devolve almost all powers to the Scottish Parliament giving them almost complete financial autonomy, except Scotland would still rely on the union for defense and foreign policy. 4. Full independence
The final option is obviously Scotland’s first minister’s favoured option.
However Alex Salmond's proposals have been met with opposition from the majority of the opposition parties. Both Labour and the Lib Dems have condemned the announcement as irresponsible, stating that the SNP should be focussing on securing the economy and peoples jobs rather than raising the distraction of independence.
The government has brought forward potential legislation to undermine the referendum argument in the form of the new Scotland bill, which will set out a number of powers that they wish to see devolved from Westminster to Holyrood. The bill is to be published after the general election, as part of its response to the Calman commissions review on devolution. Under the governments proposals Westminster would devolve more tax varying powers to the Scottish parliament, at present the Scottish parliament is able to vary the standard rate of income tax by up to 3p. However under the new proposals Holyrood would also have control over stamp duty, aggregate levy, and landfill taxes. The parliament would also be given powers of on capital borrowing, giving Scotland greater financial autonomy. Scottish secretary, Jim Murphy said in his speech to the commons ‘Since the first day of devolution, the Scottish government has been accountable for how it spends taxpayers' money, under today's proposals, they will also be held to account for how they raise it.’ As part of the bill new powers would also be given to the Scottish parliament, such as powers to change Scotland drink drive limit and Scotland’s speed limits, powers which at present are orchestrated from Westminster.
The tactics seem to be working, a recent Ipsos MORI poll showed that although 75% would like to see a referendum on independence, only 25% would like to have one put to them at the earliest possible opportunity, while 50% believe that it is not a priority at this time. What’s more the same poll showed that only 20% wish to see Scotland independent from the union, 32% wanted to retain the status quo, and 48% wish to remain part of the union but with increased powers like those set out in the Calman commission report.
Why is Alex Salmond pushing this referendum? Well the window of opportunity is closing fast, as the Scottish elections of 2011 come on to the horizon 2010 may be Alex Salmond’s last chance to put this question to the public before the SNP are once again banished to the political wilderness.
Yesterday saw the latest lecture in Progress’ lecture series ‘New thinking for Britain’s next decade’ given by Rt Hon John Healey MP, minister of state for housing and planning.
John Healey stated that in order to see our way forward we must first look at our present position. He went on to say that the Labour party is in a difficult position to go on to a fourth term, saying that being in your third term puts the government in a difficult place having been in government just long enough so that all the mistakes made are remembered, but not long enough for all the benefits to be shown. He also stated that the media cycle was against the party, claiming that many media sources have already decided the outcome in their own minds and written off the Labour party, in his view too early. However he argued that whilst the odds are against us, Labour has won against the odds before. John Healey also believes that the ideological cycle is with us, citing a recent Times poll stating that two-thirds of people do not believe the Tories have really changed.
The housing minister spoke of how the Labour party has always and will always be the party of Britain’s low earners and will continue to be that party. However, we cannot just be that party. John Healey stated that the party must reiterate our commitment to middle Britain. The former local government minister stated that in recent years the media has focused on the metropolitan middle class, those with a combined income of £88,000+, and that we should not be fooled by this. We should focus on the real middle Britain - the 7 million median earners in the UK as they were the ones who have been truly affected by the recession - those who have an annual income of less than £19,000 pa and those with a combined household income of less than £25,000.
John Healey in response to a question on what the Labour government could do to alleviate spiraling house prices, said the answer was simple - we need to build more homes, and more affordable homes. He explained that in 2007 there were over 107,000 new homes built in Britain in conjunction with private contractors and land developers and that the government needs to continue to work with the private industry to build more affordable homes. He believes that this is the way in which the government can help in alleviating spiraling house prices and therefore allow more of median Britain to get their foot on the ladder. To do this he said we must not be afraid of using public money to assist in building.
Private renting is something which is becoming more and more common in Britain, and the housing minister talked in his speech about making this a more attractive option. The housing minister explained that the government will be introducing more legislation to improve the rights of tenants, as well as introducing the respect kite mark standard which increases the standards for landlords and increases the rights of landlords on dealing with antisocial behavior of their tenants. John Healey also stated that the government is very keen on improving the standards of private rented accommodation and the rights of tenants.
In summary John Healey’s speech focused on the fact that in order for Labour to exceed the expectations of the media and to defeat this underdog status that the Labour party has been awarded in recent times the party needs to show its commitment not to middle Britain but to median Britain, and use this ideological cycle to our advantage.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday writing for the Independent called for the Queen’s speech to be scrapped in favor of a programme of wide ranging political reform. Nick Clegg claimed that the Queen’s speech will be a work of fiction as Gordon Brown will only have 70 days to implement the legislation set out in the speech, and therefore would be little more than a road test of Labour’s next election manifesto and policy gimmicks to see whether they may save the governments skin.
The Lib Dem leader claimed that in the wake of the expenses scandal this parliament has lost its legitimacy, and therefore the only job that this ‘rump parliament’ is good for is the reformation of parliament. In his article for the Independent the Liberal Democrat leader suggested that parliament should focus their efforts on agreeing on an action plan to reform parliament in the few months until MPs leave for the election battle. The Lib Dem leader suggested a series of steps towards the reform of parliament. The first step in the Liberal Democrat leaders plan is for parliament to approve proposals to be set out by the public administration committee which would curb the powers of the commons whips and increase the autonomy and influence of the backbench MP’s. Nick Clegg also suggested moves to introduce fixed-term parliaments, agree a code of conduct for election candidates, sack corrupt MPs, make the House of Lords fully-elected and reform the Commons voting system. Nick Clegg stated that the one gift this failed parliament can give its successor is a fresh start.
The truth is that although Clegg may be right about the need for parliamentary reform he is way off the mark on two counts:
One: the Queen’s speech serves more of a purpose than merely announcing the legislative programme of the government for the next term of parliament. The monarch’s speech at the state opening of parliament is a tradition that has been in place for over 500 years, it is after all her government. If the speech were to be cancelled especially at this late stage it would not only be done at huge cost to the British tax payer as all of the security procedures will already be in place for the Queen’s journey from Buckingham palace to parliament. But the cancellation of the speech would also signal a much more significant constitutional change. If the government were to stop the Queen’s speech then it would be the prime minister effectively overruling the head of state, effectively in one action removing the presumed authority in the crown. This action in itself would symbolize a major shift in British constitutional politics.
Two: his argument that the Queen's speech will be a complete waste of time and would be little more than a road test of the Labour party manifesto can be said of any Queen’s speech near the end of a parliament, both Labour and Tory. Harriet Harman rejecting this claim stated that this Queen’s speech would contain important plans to foster economic growth and make the banks more accountable.
The call by Nick Clegg is quite simply a blatant example of pointless politicking, the kind of which the British public has come to detest. I suggest that the Lib Dem leader gets off his high horse and takes a look around. This Labour government has introduced and passed legislation, which became an act of parliament in the summer, which will make sure that MPs no longer set our allowance system. And Gordon Brown announced his plan to have a referendum on electoral reform after the next general election.
Yes there does need to be reform in politics, but significant steps have already been taken, and Nick Clegg’s announcement seems to be playing politics in an area that needs unity and coherent action.