Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Jobs and Growth a Liberal alternative

I guess Jo Swinson is seen as a far more friendly face to Lib Dem activists than say Danny Alexander who always does badly in polls of party workers, for it is she who has written to ask us for our views on jobs and growth. Time will tell if this is a genuine attempt to engage members or if it just looking for confirmation of a plan many -I suspect most of us- feel is unbalanced. So its time to 'get it off your chest' as all the best FOCUS leaflet say:

    Good evening Ms Swinson
    Liberals have argued for generations that the current distribution of ownership in industry is the impediment to creating sustained growth and jobs. Pumping more money into a structure that has failed us is not the answer. As long as PLC's key concern is increasing shareholder value that long will they take unreasonable risks and ignore long term job creation and the building of sustainable enterprises (and perpetuate a gross mal distribution of wealth) 
    The Ownership Commission report laid out the link between ownership and business growth. Co-Ownership/Employee Ownership is central to getting growth going again it is not a 'bolt on' after the shyster capitalists take their profit. They identified the growth of middle sized businesses -almost completely lacking in the UK economy but essential to the German success-as a priority.
    The Liberal Party used to argue that control of a company should not rest with the owners of capital alone. We argued for a common register of company members including employees and shareholders on equal terms who should elect the Board of Directors. Our present PLC model is the most regressive in Europe .We need to recapture the initiative on this issue. Employees should not be politely asking if they can buy a few shares, their contribution to company success should be acknowledged and their rights to help direct the company entrenched in a reform of company law.
    So the highest priority must be to plot a pathway from our present unsatisfactory model of predatory capitalism to one where the dominant form of ownership is employee ownership. Richard Wainwright used to tell Liberal Assemblies that the state of affairs we favoured was one in which 'labour hired capital'. We need to return to that vision.   
    I hae me doots that people that folk want hear that they have got things wrong but frankly the scale of ambition in the house building programme is embarrassingly small and hardly begins to address the scale of the challenge either in housing investment or job creation. The same is true of infrastructure plans. Of course there are some individual projects we welcome but with unacceptably high rates of unemployment and social division we need to recognise that vastly more needs to be done. Personally I cannot see that deficit reduction should be perused as the single over-riding aim of economy policy. Full employment used to be our measure of success. We need a 'balanced scorecard' approach to judging economic recovery, total emphasis on one indicator is disastrous. As the Yellow Book declared: 'We believe with a passionate faith that the end of all political and economic action is not the perfecting or the perpetuation of this or that piece of  mechanism or organisation, but that individual men and women may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly'
    I would welcome a national infrastructure bank to help fund these initiatives as I understand Vince Cable has suggested. I had hope that out of the banking collapse we would see the re-emergence of local/regional banking. Once again the model of ownership for Liberals should be central to this argument. More banks owned by shareholder seeking maximum profit is not the solution. We need a different type of ownership. One of the worst things Thatcher's crude neo liberal creed accomplished was the destruction of the Mutual sector. We need actively to recreate financial institution owned by their savers who have long term objectives. When Jo Grimond and Robert Oakeshott returned from visiting the Mondragon Co-Ops in the late 1970's they identified the Workers' Savings Bank 'Caja Laboral Popular' as a key to building a better economy. This bank and its business support activities have created100 new worker owned companies with 100 000 jobs. It has been describes as the most successful entrepreneurial support agency anywhere in the world. The outcomes the have achieved in job creation and sustainable companies puts to shame all our venture capitalist.

    • A radical plan to bring about employee ownership -including preferential treatment when it comes to new government lending and credit facilities, tax advantages in selling businesses on to employees when founders retire etc
    • A national infrastructure bank to assist funding a dramatically more ambitious programme of house building and investment in rail etc
    • Abandoning deficit reduction as the only aim of economic policy and recognising that we need a basket of indicators including full employment to measure our progress
    • development of local/regional mutual banking sector to attract local savings and invest in local enterprises
    • put back up Keynes's portrait in the Treasury!


    1. Can I suggest investment in education because the grammar in this post is shocking. Your spelling is little better.

      As for your post IBB, I'd suggest you change parties. The Liberal Democrats are now comfortably tucked up in bed with the Tories.

      The party has left you behind, and that is exactly what the electorate is doing to the Lib Dems.

      You party is a spent force which has sold its principles for a ride on the coat tails of the Tories.

      Your post argues against the core policies which this Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government is foisting on the country. The consequences of which are devastating nationally and locally as here in Sefton we have seen massive and disproportionate cuts to the council's budget.

      Your case to Jo Swinson is based on investment and urges the Lib Dems to follow the Co-Operative movement, while you echo Ed Miliband in railing against 'predatory capitalism'. Labour, Labour and Labour.

      You cannot have it both ways IBB. Either you support the right wing agenda of the government that your Lib Dem Party is propping up, or you show your true colours and leave the Liberal Democrats.

      It's time for members of the Liberal Democrat Party to stand up and be counted. Either your Tory or your Labour.

      I'm not saying which is right or wrong, but those are the two choices which Lib Dem members and its depleting number of voters face.

      The General Election is fast approaching. It's time to choose which train you want to be on.

    2. Iain,

      Alternatively, it might have been Jo because she chairs the Federal Policy Committee. She is more popular than Danny though...

    3. Oh dear C Young....It is sad you did not spend as much time on your political research as you did on polishing your invective. The Liberal position in favour of co-ownership goes back to J S Mill was updated by the social liberals at the turn of the 19th/20th century and included in the great Liberal manifesto the Yellow Book of 1928. It has been constant in Liberal thinking through out that period until now. It is worth reflecting that through out that period the Labour Party -influence by the Webbs- were against producer co-operatives and argued a socialist case for state ownership. I am delighted Milliband has recognised this tradition. When Harriet Harman set up the Ownership Commission she did so chiefly to explore mutualism as an alternative to state and municipal ownership of public services. She did not seek to explore its application for the wider economy. Indeed in 13 years of Labour government they did very little to promoting this agenda.

      Will Hutton wrote the introduction to a very influential pamphlet ( that outlined the thinking of most Lib Dem activists, in it he argued that a reformed..'…………capitalism that accepts mutual obligations to the society of which it is part delivers better than unbounded capitalism – a truth with which the great social liberal theorists between 1870 and 1945 wrestled. Green, Hobhouse, Keynes and Beveridge spelled out a more subtle relationship between state and individual than the classic liberalism of Mill and Bentham. They sketched a role for intermediate institutions, for social insurance, for activist fiscal, monetary and financial policy, for public intervention in the design of markets and for a purposeful role of the state to promote investment and innovation.

      But they were sandwiched between two great twentieth century ideologies – free market capitalism and socialism. Socialists argued for the socialization of risk not its mitigation, and distrusted the plural distribution of political and economic power. Keynesianism became traduced into the doctrine of tax and spend combined with alleged carelessness about public debt. Meanwhile free market fundamentalists tried to argue that any deformity of capitalism required more capitalism.

      Today both traditions are stone dead – killed by their self-evident inadequacies and theoretical failings. We are rediscovering the ideas of the great social liberals who have so inspired my own thinking – and this short pamphlet is a good contemporary expression of those insights. Social liberalism within the Liberal Democrat party and its close cousin, the “new” social democratic tradition within the Labour party, are in my view the joint intellectual and political cornerstone for the re-visioning and reconceptualization of Britain. They chime with the British public’s deep attachment to fairness, proportionality and a respect for the individual as well as a willingness to rally round those who are unlucky through no fault of their own or who face unacceptable risks.

    4. Yes Mark you have an excellent point. I sat on the Policy Committee under four different Chairs; Pardoe, Wainwright, Freud and Beith and none of them,as far as I recall, ever wrote to all party members. How times have changed. Much as I welcomed the chance to 'have my say' I do nevertheless have tad of anxiety about such operations as -like referendums-they can so easily be a blunt tool. They can so easily be turned into a demonstration of loyalty or dissent and loose their focus on the actual question asked.


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