How Tony Blair killed off co-operatives as he pursued his 'third way' – Kenny MacAskill MP

When I think of Tony Blair’s crimes, it’s the Iraq war that comes to mind. That’s bad enough, standing above all others given the harm it’s done to humanity.

Tony Blair's policies may have suited Cool Britannia, but this is Scotland 2023 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Tony Blair's policies may have suited Cool Britannia, but this is Scotland 2023 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

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 Callaghan’s 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 continued to pursue his 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, such as European Christian democracy or Quebec, this book nails Blair for pushing social entrepreneurialism at the cost of the co-operative model.

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In a nutshell, it describes the hollowing out of the voluntary and community sector, and its supplanting by social enterprises. The latter are vastly different entities and though not without social benefits, they are delivered in a vastly different way. Co-operative and mutual structures in communities replaced by social innovation in the markets. 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 degree of 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.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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