Blair and the Co-ops – 1 July 2022


When I think of Tony Blair crime’s it’s the Iraq war that comes to mind. That on its own’s bad enough standing above all others given the harm its done to humanity. But there are numerous other offences perpetrated as he pursued his so called “third way”. A new one to me was highlighted in a book I recently read.

Titled “How Blair Killed the Co-ops”, it was written by a man who can rightly claim some knowledge and expertise and not simply through his academic work and research. For Les Huckfield was also Labour MP for Nuneaton from 1967-83, serving as a Minister in Jim Callaghans government from 1976-79 and being an MEP for several years thereafter. He’s also rooted in the co-operative movement, having been elected to the Labour NEC representing Socialist Societies.

Now I have to confess it’s a very academic book which I found quite tough going as it’s written for those with a high level knowledge and understanding of the sector. Perhaps, understandable as Les has continue to pursue knowledge and research long past an age when most are retired. Good on him though and it’s good what this has exposed.

Leaving aside fascinating discourses on alternative models whether European Christian democracy or Quebec, this book nails Blair for pushing social entrepreneurialism at the cost of the co-operative model. In a nutshell the hollowing out of the voluntary and community sector, and its supplanting by social enterprises. The latter’s a vastly different entity and though not without social benefits delivered in a vastly different way. Co-operative and mutual structures in communities replaced by social innovation in the markets. Or as Les put it “public and social values replaced by value for money”.

This reminded me of a community group I knew in a deprived part of Scotland. Organised, run and staffed locally they were rolled right over by a social enterprise which muscled in. Lacking the star appeal, never mind the financial clout they were cast aside. Social provision’s still made but it comes in from outwith, has no local control and provides no local employment. Worthy it may be but the local good never mind control is vastly different.

But hey ho which model suited Cool Britannia. The trouble is we’re living in Scotland 2023.