Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Battle of the Millibands

According to the list of CLP nominations in today on Labourlist from my former colleague Luke Akehurst, there are only two horses in the race. Although from MP nominations it may have seemed this way for some time, these were a fairly poor indicator, IMHO. After all, how much difference is it likely to make which way a few hundred MPs vote? Interestingly some (like my other former colleague John Mann) have switched their allegiance to DM having seen the results in their own CLP. Well, it's good for Party democracy, I guess.

Anyway, as I said in my comments on LabourList: on the regional breakdown, interesting to see that David Milliband is doing particularly well in heartland Labour areas such as North, Scotland, West Mids. Ed Milliband is mostly doing well in less strong Labour areas, London being an exception, but then again London has never warmed to figures perceived to be to the right of the Party. No surprises that Andy Burnham has done well in his native North West, or that DM has too in the South East "Middle England" belt.

Overall it looks good for David Milliband, although his brother may run him close - this is a good cross-section of Party opinion. No-one else has really got a prayer, on this analysis. But hey, I thought the Lib Dems and the Tories could never make a coalition!

For the record, my vote will be with David, should there be no major revelations in the next few weeks. He's not perfect, but he's the only one you can truly imagine opening the door to No. 10.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Harriet backs off

Harriet Harman yesterday backed off on plans to introduce quotas into the Shadow Cabinet elections.

Thank God for that. We would really have started to look foolish in front of the electorate we are hoping will vote us back before long. You see, we forget that the preoccupations of a small number of members of the political class in Westminster, or even around the country, are not the preoccupations of the country as a whole. Unlike a few members of the Party, the country as a whole does not see glaring inequality in their daily life at every turn.

While it's certainly a frustrating and accepted truth that women still do not hold a sensible proportion of top management jobs, it is simply not true that it is necessary to have 50-50 or bust in Shadow Cabinet posts. It is iniquitous enough that positive discrimination has twisted our selection processes for MPs beyond all recognition, without compounding this and affecting our ability to select the best possible team by forcing us into quotas.

Can we not trust ordinary Party members to select the best ministers without feeling we have to "guide" them? Are Party members really so intrinsically sexist, for Heaven's sake? Thank God this debate, at least, seems to be over for now.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Social entrepreneurship - from the horse's mouth

Yesterday at IESE, Barcelona I had the privilege of listening to possibly the most well-known of all social entrepreneurs, Prof. Mohammed Yunus of the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh. More or less single-handedly inventing the concept of microcredits, and helping millions of people in the process set up businesses. A lot of people are tagged “inspirational speaker” but this one really “walks the walk” – a Nobel Peace Prize winner, he’s made important things happen for good and reinvented business models. He's also extremely clever - makes you think "why didn't I think of that?" - and very funny.

Yunus works always from the bottom up, small operations which scale. And as a lateral thinker, he thinks that sometimes, knowing nothing about a subject is a distinct advantage. “When I had to set up the bank, it was quite easy”, says Yunus. “I just observed how ordinary banks worked…and then did exactly the opposite.” Operations local not central. Ownership by those involved, not third parties wanting a return. Prices based on what people can afford, not what the market dictates (what the market dictates for borrowing for people in poverty creates a "market failure" well-known to microeconomists). As Albert Einstein once observed, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.

In the Grameen Bank he set up, not only a microcredit system which put the loan sharks out of business in Bangladesh and helped millions of women out of poverty, but also transplanted the model, against the advice of many, to Queens, New York City, where it’s also been a great success. And a healthcare insurance system. And a nursing college. And a project to get necessary vitamins to undernourished kids. And a massive vegetable-growing project to prevent night blindness through lack of vitamin A. Oh, and a mobile phone company with 50% of the Bangladeshi market, using a single woman in each rural village as a reseller of mobile phone time. All practical, bottom-up solutions.

He appreciates that modern business is highly effective in making things happen, but believes it flawed in its motivations. He’s not against businesses making money, but wants to propose an alternative kind of business, the “social business”, to run alongside it. Whereas the definition of a social entrepreneur can be sometimes a bit blurry (for example, with-profit or not-for-profit?), he is, typically, very straightforward and precise. What have all these businesses got in common? Firstly they’re owned by the people who run them. In fact, Yunus has never owned a single share in any of these multi-billion dollar enterprises. And secondly, they don’t pay dividends but reinvest the profits. (Hmm, doesn’t this sound pretty similar to that radical thinking that we in the West call a co-operative…?) Social business, co-op, mutual, social entrepreneurship - call it what you will, it works.

Finally, what has he to say on the motive for business in general? In short, he agrees with something that my friend Prof. Miguel Ariño said on his blog last week: the first objective of business should not be profit, although this can be a by-product. It is there to satisfy a need or, as Yunus says, to solve a problem. And businesses are, in my opinion, generally much more effective at doing this, expanding and deploying more rapidly while making good use of their talented people, than other types of organisation.

Well that’s about as good an argument for social entrepreneurship – in whatever flavour you decide to pursue it – as I can think of.
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