Vince was on good form yesterday. He was determined to stay on message and not discuss a Plan B, instead he shared with us some thoughts on what could be added to plan A, A++ as he called it.
Others have reported on Vince's speech so I will not dwell on it here, suffice to say it was good to hear that land tax and robust banking reform were firmly in his sights.
One other key element on which he put great emphasis was 're-balancing the economy'. This is usually understood to be moving away from the financial sector being the driving force in the economy, resurrecting manufacturing, developing jobs and businesses in the regions and looking to exports rather than consumer spending as a priority.
I want to suggest that there is another key bit of rebalancing that is missing. Ownership. It would drive most Liberals of the last hundred years to despair if they had witnessed a speech that did not address ownership.
Their is a gross and obscene mal-distribution of wealth in Britain today. Companies are bought and sold to make a quick buck for the shareholders. Britain has most regressive model of ownership in Western Capitalism.
This model has meant that Britain's 'crown jewels' have been bought up. Many companies have been destroyed for short term returns. Most institutions investing are not interested in building a long term relationship with a company and so there is little support for projects that might have a long gestation period despite the evidence that this will be the pattern for new products in the future. The workers in the business are not taken any account so there is no need to invest in the long term, in research or staff training. Mandelson at the fag end of the Labour government got so concerned about the impact of takeover activity that he suggested increasing the margin by which shareholders had to vote to approve a takeover, to which the response should be: 'what about the workers' have they no interest?
If we want businesses developed which plans and builds for the long term then the employees are key. Liberals have for generation railed against the short term interest of capital dominating business. Look back at our manifestos in the twentieth century-see if you can guess the year, they range from 1979 to 1923
We see a revolution in attitudes amongst all at work through the introduction of Democracy in Industry as the key to reversing Britain's economic decline. This means employees sharing control and profits with shareholders. We would achieve this by giving all employees (irrespective of trade union membership) legal rights as individual members of their company; a direct vote in electing the board of directors jointly with the shareholders; rights to information about its plans and prospects; to participate in decisions through elected works councils; and to share in the profits. Liberals would encourage producer co-operatives by establishing a Cooperative Development Bank.
The Liberal Party believes that all individuals should be involved in the industry in which they work and this has been the cornerstone of our policy for over fifty years. ........
Liberal industrial policy has three objectives. Firstly, employees must become members of their companies just as shareholders are, with the same clearly defined rights. Secondly, it must be accepted that directors in public companies are equally responsible to shareholders and employees. Employees should be entitled to share in the election of the directors on equal terms with shareholders, and Works Councils representing all employees must be set up at plant level with wide powers to negotiate pay and conditions of work. Thirdly, employees should share in the profits of the company and the growth of its assets.
In the long term, the implementation of Liberal co-partnership policies will contribute to the solution of wage inflation, by ensuring that all employees benefit from wage increases and by including a measure of responsibility into wage bargaining. For in the day-to-day negotiations within each company employees would realise that there is little to be gained by wage increases in excess of productivity. Such increases would simply reduce the amount available in which the workers would share. In short our policies would achieve the identification of employees' interests with those of the firm by providing a visible link between the immediate limitation of wage demands and the future prosperity which will be generated for both employees and shareholders as a result. We cannot believe that any reasonable employer would prefer an industrial strike and the loss of millions of pounds to the hope of industrial harmony and responsible wage bargaining through industrial partnership. Similarly, no responsible employee would refuse the opportunity to become an equal partner in his firm with an equal share in its profits in favour of continued confrontation, inequality and insecurity.
The individual worker must have a say and a stake in the place where he works. In large-scale industry he is entitled to similar rights to those enjoyed by the shareholder. Industry must become a partnership between capital and labour, with management responsible to the partnership. Workers should participate in the election of directors. Works Councils should be established in every plant. This will facilitate plant-bargaining and productivity deals. It will enable the aim of the Donovan Commission on Trade Unions to be realised by providing the proper machinery for negotiations at plant level between people who know, and are involved in, the local conditions. In this way industrial relations can be greatly improved and the causes of many strikes removed. This state of affairs cannot be brought about by using the power of the law as the Conservatives wish, and as the Labour Government at one time intended. Liberal plans for partnership in industry will give increased opportunities for profit-sharing. This will help to remove the suspicions entertained by labour about capital. Management and labour have to be moulded into one team, not a wrestling match.
The first step must be to give employees more say in the running of the companies in which they work. Company law must be amended to require the setting up of Works Councils for regular consultation and negotiation between employee and management on all major issues affecting their company.
Employees must be given the same status as shareholders and the consequent right to elect directors to the Board..
Management should be encouraged by tax incentives to increase employee shareholding, because a financial stake is an important part of a man's involvement with, and responsibility to, the company for which he works.
Industrial efficiency depends on partnership not conflict. Our proposals would bring about this partnership.
The Liberal Party offers the electorate a radical, non-Socialist alternative. In the long run, our objective is to form a government.............
Partners in Industry
Go-ahead companies have already realised that the alternative to negative control by the unofficial strike is real participation by the employee in the running of his firm.
The Companies Act must be amended to give all established employees in public limited companies a status comparable to shareholders. Employees must be given a share in the decisions and profits of the companies in which they work. Employees should be represented on the board of directors, or on a joint supervisory council. This is one way to ensure that ability gets to the top.
For instance, the question of how industry should be run is largely one of providing encouragement for efficient management, giving a greater stake in it, and a greater sense of security to the worker and recognizing the important part which the Trade Unions must play, not against management but in close co-operation with it. We all depend on the industries of this country to produce a higher standard of living.
Liberals believe that they should not only be efficient but provide a friendly and secure atmosphere in which everyone involved can have a sense of useful purpose in serving the community. The only people who continually hammer away at this are the Liberals.
The Liberal Party alone has been advocating the general introduction of co-ownership schemes, desirable not only as incentives but as the foundation of industrial peace
Of first importance are the status and remuneration of the worker. He has for too long been regarded as a "hand". He must become a partner and acquire economic citizenship, through Works Councils set up by law, and through Joint Industrial Councils in every Trade Board Industry. Profit-sharing should be encouraged, and information on the conduct and finance of business should be readily available to assure workers that wages fixed and profit-sharing schemes in operation are fair and just.
Liberals believe that the controversy for and against nationalisation is out of date. They approach industrial problems without economic prejudice, and since they represent no vested interest of employers or employed, they alone can plan in the interests of the whole community. They believe in private enterprise and the value of individual effort, experiment, and willingness to take risks. Hence their support of the small trader and their desire to diffuse ownership as widely as possible. Hence also their opposition to cartels and price- fixing rings which, often abusing the name of private enterprise, create conditions of monopoly and hold the community to ransom.