Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Bringing ownership back in

In her Progress lecture tonightCabinet Office Minister Tessa Jowell argues that Labour was wrong to walk away from the idea of 'ownership' as a political issue, and argues that the potential of mutual and cooperative models means that "The question of ownership is, therefore, no longer a simple binary choice: public or private".

Here is part of her argument as to why ownership matters.

But let’s not forget that demutualisation was just one part of a much wider project, one in which the right successfully challenged existing notions of public ownership.

The council house sales of Margaret Thatcher’s first term, the ‘Tell Sid’ mass privatisations of her second, and the wave of demutualisations of the third and fourth Tory terms, together, these policies created a politically compelling vision of ownership, centred on the notion of a mass property and share-owning democracy.

So just as mutualism captures the mood of these times, so demutualisation reflected and symbolised popular sentiment in the 1980s

And let’s remember, the Tories were aided in selling their vision by Labour’s failure to provide a modern, attractive alternative. We didn’t so much as lose the match, as fail to turn up on pitch – clinging on to a outdated notion of ‘public ownership’ – remote, Whitehall-run nationalised industries and town hall-run municipal housing.

While the solution that the right offered was lacking in so many respects, it was correct in identifying that the public were, as they are now, looking for new ways to feel a greater sense of ownership and control. So we walked away from the notion of ‘ownership’ as a political issue. In retrospect, we were far too hasty. Because ownership does matter. With ownership comes power. And if we are to achieve our goals of advancing social justice, then we have to be concerned about the distribution of power.

Jowell will announce a new commission on ownership, to be chaired by Will Hutton.

The lecture is being given at 6pm: the full text can be read on the Progress website.

Putting ownership back on the table was the theme of Stuart White's Fabian Review essay in our 'red shoots for the next left' issue this summer.

He wrote:

At the turn of the last century, social democrats would unhesitatingly have said that changes in the ownership and control of wealth are fundamental to the project.

On the one hand, they looked to the rise and continued growth of the cooperative sector as a route to the just society. On the other, they focused on ownership of productive assets by the state at both local and central levels. In the course of the twentieth century, however, the social democratic imagination contracted. The commitment to widespread public ownership was jettisoned, for good reasons, by the revisionists of the Labour Party in the 1950/60s. They sought to replace it with a distinctively social democratic conception of a ‘property-owning democracy’ (Jackson, 2005). But this made little headway in the party and, following the rise and fall of Bennism, a strategy for radically reforming the distribution and control of wealth effectively dropped out of Labour’s social vision.

As part of the task of renewal, Labour needs urgently to bring questions of ownership back into its field of vision, and to do so explicitly. One can see some modest first steps in this direction under New Labour. But the steps remain too modest relative to the challenges we face, and they are not informed by a coherent sense of what an alternative egalitarian capitalism – or post-capitalism – might look like.

Read Stuart's essay here

1 comment:

Robert said...

A labour MP talking sense must be election time.