Is government a social enterprise?

A few weeks ago I wrote here describing how Jeremy Corbyn reminded me Martin Luther King. Both in my view waited their time, stepped into public view and led the change they wanted to see.

Shortly after the blog went live, I happened to be meeting a local MP who had read the blog that morning. He said that whilst he largely agreed, and knowing Jeremy Corbyn felt he was a decent chap, he said that on one thing I was wrong: Corbyn he said doesn’t champion social enterprise, he champions nationalisation.

I’ve been reflecting on that comment ever since and conclude that the only difference, in an ideal world, between nationalisation and social enterprise is scale.

We elect a government to represent our collective interests and on our behalf, collect our taxes to fund education, health, infrastructure and services for vulnerable members of our society. How is that different from a rural village collectively investing to fund and operate a community owned shop, wind generation project or faster broadband?

But something gets lost when the organisation loses that personal touch with its stakeholders. In a local, community led cooperative or community interest company people feel a close connection with the cause. Local activists lead the project and everyone knows where they live if things start to go wrong.

Take the railways as an example of what has, by necessity, to be a far larger project, and personal relationships are replaced by bureaucracy, rules and procedures. Yet look at your nearest heritage steam railway and you gain an insight into how things could be. Local ownership, control and a shared pride in maintaining an asset for us all to enjoy.

I was commissioned by Thetford Town Council a year or two ago to help them secure a long lease on good terms of a redundant high school campus. Yes, there were concerns; yes, there was some opposition from local Luddites, but most of this was fuelled by uncertainty.

Always in my mind was the fact that the campus sits at the centre of a particularly challenged social housing development. People here have become accustomed to successive waves of well-intentioned initiatives, each delivered separately for three years, after which the funding ends, the people go home and the problem re-emerges.

Yet now that school campus is managed by community cooperative organisation. Led by local people, the site now hosts a wide range of community groups; the canteen is now a thriving cafe and new organisations are moving in to the town, renting space, creating jobs and making a lasting difference to the lives of those who live there.

The dilemma in my mind is one of political bias. Personally, I do not have any particular allegiance to right, left of middle ground politics. My sense is that community ownership of local issues cross cuts party politics and exists as something everyone should support.

Which leaves me wondering if the problem is simply politics!


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Fernando Centeno, CED
Fernando Centeno, CED
8 years ago

Interesting. Local level politics can seem undefined, as candidates don’t put up an agenda or identify in terms of a particular party; much is based upon personality and the perceived gravitas of the candidate. But beneath the surface, they indeed are at the mercy of strong economic forces, who pick their candidates & fund their elections — all legal, of course. Principled candidates pay a steep price for their idealism.

It falls upon citizens to educate themselves, to determine who best represents their interests or values, assess whether a given candidate is willing to rock the boat to effectuate real change, or, whether they like someone based upon their personal, business, or social affiliations.

It’s contradictory to both understand the nuances involved between competing candidates, yet still remain neutral or indifferent between them, because voting represents your personal values, priorities, and preferences. Consequently, if election outcomes don’t matter, anyone will do; the status quo assuredly endures, which is an incentive not to vote at all.

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