Is collective ownership the ‘New Start’ we need?

The Coalition Government is attracting some, on the face of it, strange supporters. I do hope they will be made to feel welcome.

In a rather startling blog for “New Start” my old friend Jonathan Rosenberg has written an extraordinary piece entitled “Collective ownership is the new consensus” in which he espouses Big Society. This is – ostensibly – a bit of a surprise as Jonathan campaigned for the Labour Party in the General Election!

“Does the timing and prominence of this….” he asks “suggest that local people should be elevated above their elected representatives, and workers above their bosses?

“Is the programme part of a coherent philosophy? Has a new consensus emerged on the need to empower people through collective ownership to solve problems more effectively, a consensus that is now at the heart of government policy? The evidence, however curious, suggests that the answer is yes.

“The promotion of social action, and handing assets over to workers and communities is now a central plank of public sector reform. This startling development heralds a real opportunity to advance the good old cause of collective ownership.”

Steady on Vicar!

Jonathan was one of the Harrow Road campaigners who saw off Dame Shirley Porter from Westminster City Council in the late eighties, exposing the gerrymandering scandals and the asbestos in council homes along the way.

His finest achievement was setting up the Walterton and Elgin Community Homes (WECH) in the early nineties (a beacon of community owned housing to this day) in response to the deficiencies of Westminster’s policy on social housing at that time.

A lifelong member of the Labour Party, Jonathan has never been tribal with it, and he had a pivotal role in persuading Ken Livingstone to run for London Mayor in 2000 against the Party (indeed, Rosenberg was responsible for that diabolically irritating Purple Bus you may remember that used to pop up and loudly “agitprop” all around London, just when you’d found a quiet bench in the park to eat your sandwich peacefully in the sunshine).

So, Rosenberg is a born campaigner for what he sees as right. Now, I can’t always be seen around town with Jonathan as he can be something of a hothead and you have to pick your battle grounds carefully (added to which he is always poor and you generally have to feed him: the restaurant bills multiply considerably). But he is a considerable historian with a considerable brain.

He was a powerful ally to me when I was at Paddington, and he was instrumental in the campaign to get local people into jobs. And now he is a powerful ally for Mr Phillip Blond indeed. And the boy knows his stuff. He says “over the past three years, respected politicians, thinkers and commentators have suggested that the old left right, private versus public, state versus market dichotomy is not fit for resolving current economic and political challenges. A fresh interpretation of our ills and what we can do about them is at hand.

From the ideological wreckage of the war between capitalism, liberalism and socialism emerges a new age – post-recession, post-managerialist, post left and right – an era that draws on British traditions of community, or, for the more cynical, ‘parish pump’ politics. Deride it as you will: ‘Power to the People!’ is the new mantra”.

And then (hang on to your hats now) “Collective ownership is the new consensus. Implementing it should bring freedom and control for all: for rural villages who want to own their cricket fields, pubs and post offices; for working class communities who want to own their estates and provide their own services; and for suburbs of a liberal or independent minded disposition who possess the talent and knowledge to manage their own affairs.”

Well I say! Mr Blond is clearly developing a movement “of all the talents” around Big Society. Have a look at Rosenberg’s blog on New Start (also now on the Home page of ResPublica, having been picked up by Open Democracy). His denouement “Politicians are offering power: let’s be gracious by seeking to take it” is to die for.

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