Why Co-Ops and Mutuals are the way forward

I have always thought that the UK economy had wrongly left the route of mutuals and co-ops too far behind in the blind rush towards capitalism. Here’s an interesting take on how we can regain our love of co-ops and mutuals written by Richard Warren for the Lib Dem Voice web site.

The Co-Op Museum in Toad Lane, Rochdale.

The Co-Op Museum in Toad Lane, Rochdale.

Lib Dems: The Co-operatives Party
By Richard Warren

Theresa May’s plan to introduce worker directors onto company boards is a start, but she still has a long way to go to catch up with liberal thinking: Jo Grimond advocated worker-owned firms more than 50 years ago, and she hasn’t reached that point yet.

But the Lib Dems need to be more consistent and outspoken in support for worker-owned firms and other types of co-operatives, too. Over the decades, we’ve had the occasional burst of enthusiasm, such as when Nick Clegg called for the creation of a “John Lewis economy” in 2012, but it doesn’t appear to be integrated into our policy-making as it is over at the Co-operative Party. It ought to be for the following three reasons:

First, by supporting co-operatives we can create a coherent, credible, principled centre-left alternative to Corbynite state socialism that might help us find common ground with some Labour and Co-operative Party supporters. Significantly, the Co-operative Party is increasingly keen to distinguish itself from Labour now, and shares some of our views on key issues. As Labour MP and chairman of the Co-operative Party, Gareth Thomas, says, the co-operative movement is pro-business and pro-EU; so are we.

And, of course, by supporting co-operatives we reinforce our claim that we are now the party of business, not the Tories.

Second, mutuals work. Twice as many cooperatives survive their first five years than other types of businesses. What’s more, co-operatives are efficient providers of low rent homes and successfully develop human-scale regeneration projects.

Third, if the rise of the SNP and the Brexit referendum have told us one thing, it’s that people want more control over their lives. Looking to break-up the United Kingdom or have Britain reject collaborative working with our European neighbours are, of course, wholly destructive. Much better and more meaningful to give people a greater say over their affairs by looking for ways to extend mutualisation in more areas of our daily life: more housing co-operatives to help ease the housing shortage by providing low rent homes, and more businesses owned by their workers and even their customers to sell honestly-made goods and services at honest prices in an honest way. And, of course, to pay a decent salary.

Indeed, support for co-operatives could form part of a policy package aimed at giving people more power over their lives. Other components could include our continued support for proportional representation.

Co-operative ownership comes in many guises. Which is best, if any, is something to discuss. Companies don’t necessarily need to be wholly owned by their workers and customers: The Co-operative Party is arguing for carers, care recipients and their families to be represented on the boards of private companies providing social care, for example.

Co-operatives themselves are looking for their voices to be heard more loudly, and some feel both the Labour and Co-operative Parties have let them down in recent years. We would be doing them, ourselves and the country a service if we gave them a home in our party.

* Richard Warren is a journalist who is a member of the Liberal Democrats.

What would a truly Liberal Britain Look Like?


I like this clear definition of what a Liberal Britain could look like by Dick Newby. It fits closely with my own views.

Scottish Parliament backs equal marriage – A very Liberal thing to do.

There were many celebrations across Scotland as the Holyrood parliament passed its same sex marriage bill by a margin of 105-18. All Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs voted in favour.The honour of speaking for the Lib Dems on this occasion was MSP Jim Hume. This is what he said:

Fairness and equality runs through the veins of every true Liberal Democrat I know. We want Scotland to be one of the fairest and most equal places in the world. That’s why we support legislation enabling gay, transgender and lesbian couples to marry. When MSPs met to debate the Bill at stage 2 last November, Scottish Liberal Democrats were pleased to have had the opportunity to vote in favour and we remain supportive of the Bill today during its final stage.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill demonstrates that our society values every person equally irrespective of their sexuality, and that we regard every relationship as worthy of equal recognition. If two people in a loving relationship want to formalise that through a religious or civil marriage ceremony, then they shouldn’t be prevented from doing so. In other words, there should be no differentiation between what’s available to same or mixed sex couples.

I strongly believe that that sense of fairness and equality also runs deep in the psyche of every Scot, and indeed, that view has been reflected in the emails and letters I’ve received over the last few months

Key to this whole debate has been the issue of respect for everyone’s opinions and getting the balance right.

I think the Bill as it stood at Stage 2 struck a good balance. It was recognised that in voting to uphold the intention of the Bill to allow for equal marriage, it’s also important to respect the rights of individuals and faith organisations not to carry out same-sex marriages if they don’t wish to. Liberal Democrats believe that the stage 2 amendments acknowledged that balance.

As a Liberal Democrat and someone who was brought up in a household of good church goers with a mother who broke another mould by becoming the first women elder in the parish, I believe it’s important to do the right thing.

Inequality is a form of oppression and can manifest itself in many different forms and to varying degrees. Some are more subtle than others. It’s true that society has come a long way in terms of gay rights and equality issues. But I don’t buy the argument that gay people should be happy with what they have, as though they’ve been given special concessions up until now.

The idea that a gay couple should have no legal right to a religious or civil marriage ceremony makes the massive assumption that marriage doesn’t apply to you; that you cannot express your religious view or commitment to marriage if you’re in a same sex relationship. Taking that a step further, preventing same sex couples from marrying is preventing a section of the population from expressing their marriage beliefs and this in my view represents a subtle and creeping oppression that should not exist in a civilised society.

Religious affiliation and sexual orientation are not mutually exclusive to one another.

Indeed, 19th century business woman, Anne Lister, whose diaries discovered after her death revealed much about her private life, said it best when she wrote of her sexuality, “this is my nature. To act in opposition to my nature would be more wrong for me than to be a married woman. I am living my life with the nature that God gave me. It is perfectly ok”.

As an aside, it’s interesting that Anne Lister should primarily be remembered for being the so called “first modern lesbian”. In fact, she is arguably a role model for women and men to this day – she was an independent business woman in her own right and became one of the first women to climb the Pyrenees. She lived her life her way – with the nature God gave her.

Perhaps that interest in her love life says something about the preoccupation we still have as a society today about sexual orientation.

Presiding Officer, in passing this legislation today, we’re making the proud statement that we’re not content to isolate a section of our diverse community.

We’re not giving preferential treatment to any one group.

We’re simply saying that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the same rights. Anything less, is inhumane.

Extending equality of marriage in Scotland is something that Scottish Liberal Democrats are very proud to stand up for. There can be no excuse for isolating a section of the population for any reason – whether that’s on the basis of religious affiliation, skin colour or gender – and for that reason, Scottish Liberal Democrats are proud to support the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill through its final stage today.

And in doing so recognise the many constituents who have contacted me supporting this Bill, also recognise the positive campaign, both by Stonewall and the Equality Network, in particular throughout this debate. As well as Alex Neil for his determination to bring this legislation to this Parliament, and for his meetings he has held with myself and others to ensure Scotland is seen as a leading light for Equality. I look forward to voting for this historic Bill at decision time today.