This probably comes under the 'restatement of core message' heading for this blog, but looking at Mike Killingnorth's whither the left post, I think that there is something of a problem with this way of addressing things.
Mike comes around to endorsing co-ops. Now I've worked in co-ops for a number of years. I helped to set one up was a director for five years before it all started to crumble. One thing I found to be almost non-existent was a debate about the scientific management of co-ops.
How is ownership distributed most effectively? How far is there a tension between 'fair' and 'effective'? How much control should ownership confer (an echo of the control by representatives v direct input into day-to-day policymaking argument that has turned into an obsession around these parts). How do you reward initiative? How do you strike the balance between being orderly and being competitive? And what about the unfraternal reality that sometimes, to survive, you have to shaft your rivals?
Brian Clough (pbuh) used to fill out his various biographies with entreaties to keep it simple. Football, he argued, was about getting the basics right. Don't obsess around the details of how you are going to take on a particular opponent. Just make sure that your players are familiar with the ball.
Make sure that you have the right configuration of players with particular characteristics. Make sure that they are happy. Don't bore people with flipcharts, videos and organograms, because every plan has to be revised upon first engagement with the enemy. Plans don't work. In short, get the basics right and keep it simple.
Before the co-op, I sold ads for a well-known lefty magazine. I used to go to the editorial meetings on a Monday morning, and it was like Groundhog Day each time. There was always a 'whither the left' feature in the pipeline, usually reacting to the shortcomings of the previous one. Each one had the usual suspects demanding the usual prescriptions. And because this was the standard fallback and filler for the title, no-one seemed prepared to state what now seems to me to be the bleedin' obvious: That we need to keep it simple.
Mike's co-op example is a case in point. Firstly, co-ops are just one form of collective action. Why endorse this particular model at all? Why can't we just endorse collective action? This is what distinguishes us from the right.
We, on the left, are in favour of collective action. The right are against it. Most of them are against it for entirely dishonest reasons - when they call themselves 'principled libertarians', you can usually see - beneath the surface - nothing more than a defence of hereditary wealth and ancient power-relations, combined with a determination to co-opt those who manage to naturally-select their way off the lower social tiers.
There is a minor disagreement on the left about how collective action should be directed. The older left tend towards the state, and the newer left (of which I hope I'm one) tend to prefer it to be organised in a much more dispersed and spontaneously directed way - with strong voluntary, local and regional structures that are capable of taking on and beating more central ones.
The beauty of this, of course, is that the left have always had this argument in their peripheral vision. We have won huge victories while no-one was looking - often with Tory governments in power. European social legislation has delivered many of organised Labour's demands - safer workplaces, a defence against discrimination (however imperfect it still may be) and so on. Bafflingly, this has often been done in the teeth of left-wing demands for EU disengagement. These are the result of the one unqualified victory that the left has unwittingly enjoyed: The triumph of post-war European representative democracy. All of those awful elites in Brussels have achieved more that the Labour Movement could ever have dreamed of.
Court politics - the Westminster Village - are not that important in all of this. The left can make it's biggest strides by having an open neutral debate on how best to promote collective action - and to act on the conclusions of that debate. For my own part, I think that the conclusion will be that we should only focus upon improving the quality of representative democracy and upon promoting decentralisation, bicameralism, a reassertion of elected officials over permanent ones, and so on. How these principles translate downwards will give the answers that anyone involved in a co-op, social enterprise, ethical business, and so on, will ever need.
Demanding particular socialistic structures is for the fairies. If anyone wants to go off and set up a co-operative, they are more than welcome. But they will find that they are working with people who have no opportunity to take part in a lively debate about collective action.
Co-ops can only really succeed if there is a consensus on this subject - and as far as I can see, the left hasn't even started talking about it properly yet. This is what the left is for. It is the only thing that the left is for.
You wouldn't think so though....