Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Mutuals mess-up, but corporate capitalism...
I'm keen member of the retail Co-op (I actually go to the meetings), pay for my broadband and telephone line via the Phone Co-op and have an account at the Co-op Bank. So I'm naturally distressed by the amount of negative publicity being generated by the collapse of our (yes our) bank and allegations of incompetence and wickedness directed at its former chairman Paul Flowers. (Journalists, even on the BBC, please note that in British English its the Rev'd Paul Flowers, the Rev'd P Flowers, or Mr Flowers: the Rev'd Flowers is American English).
The Labour Party tries to claim a monopoly of the co-operative principle, but it has strong roots in Liberalism as well: profit sharing in Theodore Taylor's mills in Batley, just down the road from me; our many attempts, against trade union resistance, to introduce employee representation on boards; Jo Grimond's enthusiasm for Mondragon.
The Co-op Bank's present problems, largely if not mainly caused by the take-over of another mutual, the Britannia Building Society, give ammunition to supporters of traditional (exploitative) capitalism to mock the mutual ideal: OK for the Women's Institute perhaps, but not suitable for serious business.
But hang on a moment. The Co-op Bank has not, so far at any rate, needed taxpayers' money to shore it up. And its directors have retired with only ignominy, unmitigated by fat bonuses. All very different from the collapse of capitalist RBS and Lloyds TSB.