Saturday, 20 February 2010

Co-ops need a level playing field, not handouts

As previously reported and welcomed on this blog, the government is giving profile co-operative ideals a way never before considered, as argued in this piece in the Guardian.

It’s a big idea, whose time has clearly come, and I endorse it wholeheartedly. However, I was concerned by the tone of the article, which talked about “pumping resources” and “financial support” for Co-operatives.

Whoa, there. That, for me, is not what Co-ops are all about and I’m sure it’s not what they themselves are suggesting. The proud tradition of Co-ops is to reinvest profits: and to prioritise other important outcomes like employment, quality and fairness. But it’s not to take handouts from government. Co-ops need to be competitive, for the obvious reason that they compete directly in the marketplace with companies which are not co-ops. If they don’t, they and the movement die – it’s a basic principle of the co-operative world.

But it’s not about state subsidies, like Tony Benn did briefly with Triumph Meridian in the 70s – that just creates wrong incentives and ultimately harms the fine name of co-operatives. What we need is proper legislation which creates a level playing field for Co-ops, a process started by the snappily-titled Co-operative & Community Benefit Societies & Credit Unions Bill currently going through Parliament.

And that won’t cost the government a penny in ongoing support, will protect Co-ops’ good name with their supporter base (which is far wider than just the Labour Party), and maintain their proud tradition of standing on their own two feet.

Now that's co-operation.

Monday, 15 February 2010

World's most powerful nation votes to further harm its political system?

I was saddened to hear of the recent decision by the US Supreme Court that governments cannot limit corporate donations to political parties.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not - at all - one of those knee-jerk anti-Americans that you often find in Europe (especially, I'm afraid, Continental Europe), saying what can you expect from the dark heart of capitalism etc. etc. No, I like a lot of things about the States, its dynamism and positivity. You get that if you live there, even if only for a few months like I did a few years back. I am less keen on its attitude to public services, or some of its awful reactionary laws. But again, let's not confuse America and Americans, most of whom I believe to be decent people with values very similar to ours.

But let's also be honest about its political system. There is a clear reason why the politics of the pork barrel has always blighted American politics, and that is the lack of regulation on party donations. Specifically, in the modern age the lack of regulation on TV advertising spots means that electioneering becomes a battle of wallets, not policies. You can see the result clearly on US TV during an election campaign.

You need, it is said, at least $1m to run for Congress where in the UK, by contrast, you can spend a maximum of about GBP 12,000 to become an MP. And what happens after a US election? Well, the people who gave that money want favours. In the process, even good men become corrupted.

So, what does this new law do? Firstly, to be completely non-partisan, it exacerbates the problem immensely by accelerating the money arms race. Secondly - to declare my obvious preference that the Democrats win - it slants the race in favour of the Republicans, who will always have deeper pockets in terms of corporate sponsorship.

As Obama says, "it's a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans." Quite.

The corporate lobby, like every other grouping, has a right to their opinion. But it doesn't have the right to run a country.
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