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Home Opinion Ideas & Debate Mutualism: social democratic policy in an age of austerity

Mutualism: social democratic policy in an age of austerity

The Conservatives, with their rhetoric of the “big society”, seem to have displaced Labour as the “party of ideas". Their emphasis on empowering communities and decentralising power arguably reflects a cooption of traditional social democratic language and an encroachment on the ideological terrain of the centre-left.

Many see mutualism as the Left’s answer to the “big society”. However, our definition of mutualism remains unclear and the means to achieve its goals intangible. On the one hand, it may refer to an alternative form of economic organisation – common ownership – in which companies are owned as mutuals in order to give employees a greater stake in the organisations for which they work and to ensure a fairer division of the proceeds: the ‘John Lewis’ model. Or, on the other hand, it may be understood as social mutualism, a form of public service reform in which providers and users of public services acquire greater control over the running of those services, and where government-provided services may be supplemented (or supplanted) by local citizens’ groups. The latter, however, raises questions of equality similar to those posed by localism: how can equal access to and quality of services be maintained nationally?

The challenge for Labour is to develop a clear vision of what mutualism means for the Left and how it can be used to drive forward the social democratic project. In this series, prominent thinkers, politicians and strategists will reflect on mutualism's relationship to social democratic values and aim to generate concrete policy solutions to give Labour the tools to constructively challenge the "big society".

Policy Network essays

The new wave of mutuality
Co-operative societies can help overcome the environmental, social, and economic problems that neither the private market nor the state have been able to find adequately answers. By ROBIN MURRAY

The rise of community wealth-building institutions
In the central neighbourhoods of some of America’s larger cities more and more people are turning to economic alternatives in which new wealth is built collectively and from the bottom up. By JOE GUINAN

Beyond mutualism and towards “The Big Economy”
Mutualism may be a useful alternative model for public services and private companies but the left must go wider and deeper than that particular model. Social democrats need to embrace the Big Society idea and extend it into the economic realm. By ADAM LENT

Bringing mutualism back into business
By forging a strong discourse on new models of both public and private sector governance, Ed Miliband can challenge the Coalition’s Big Society on its own terms. By WILLIAM DAVIES

Mutualism as a means to a bigger society
Re-embedding the market and state in social and democratic relations is one way in which social democrats can rethink the ways to secure freedom in a dizzyingly complex society. By ANTHONY PAINTER

A real version of mutualism for the left
Forged in the values of the left, and with a long and considerable track record of success, mutualism is an idea whose time has come back. by MICHAEL STEPHENSON

Mutual councils as antidotes to populism
Co-operative models offer local councils the chance to respond to the deep antipathy towards both traditional state and market solutions. by MARTIEN KUITENBROUWER  

Investing in the mutualisation of public services
It is imperative that emerging mutuals are connected to sources of finance which can provide funding on terms which value the wider social importance of the model
By RICHARD TODD & BEN WILLIAMS