I first came across the name of Robert Oakeshott in the late 1970's. He was singing an old Liberal song to a new tune.
Jo Grimond published The Common Welfare in 1978. In the chapter on the Organisation of Industry Grimond writes of Oakeshott crediting him with introducing the author to the Mondragon workers' co-operatives in the Spanish Basque region.
This blog has written before on Mondragon, Employee Ownership, Ownership for All etc and certainly see it as an important element in redistributing wealth and building a fairer and sustainable economy.Grimond then reports on a joint visit that he an Oakeshott took to Spain to learn more about the great success of the co-operatives.
Grimond kept up his interest in Mondragon and when he was in the House of Lords in 1981 moved an amendment to the Companies Act on Job Ownership Companies. Once again in the delightful way Grimond had of acknowledging those who had helped him he gave Oakeshott a name check: Hansard reports :
Mr. Oakeshott, who I expect many of your Lordships have heard of, and who has made a study of the worker co-operative movement from both a theoretical and a practical point of view over many years, has just published a book (which I have not brought with me but which I strongly recommend everybody to read) which he called The Case for Worker Co-operatives. He could actually have called it, I think, The Case Against Worker Co-operatives, because it is a completely objective account from very early days of the co-operative movement with examples of those which have succeeded and those which have failed.
As I recall he and Grimond then were involved in setting up a Job Ownership organisation which over the years has evolved into the Employee Ownership Association-the voice of co-ownership businesses in Britain.
The belief that workers' should have at least the same rights as shareholders or better still that employees should hire capital would undoubtedly combat the 'short-termism' that helped wreck the British economy. The conviction that building share value is the only important measure of a companies success has distorted and destroyed much of our economy where making a 'quick buck' for share holders has led to some 'barking' decision.
This is indeed an old Liberal song sung in every manifesto from Asquith to Ashdown. Let us hope that now we may start up the old song again.