Economical truth: Co-operative blues

Politics is a funny thing. No matter how many times parties are modernised, certain labels stick. The shadow chancellor George Osborne has pledged to release public-sector workers from government bureaucracy to set up co-operatives and social enterprises. The left will scream, "But that idea belongs to us!" And the right will say - it is already saying - "Are you going to call these soviets?"

But around the country there are cases where this model is improving services as well as staff morale, retention and pay. Given the power, people are creating a positive future for themselves. Care and Share Associates is a social enterprise in Sunderland. It provides home care of a higher standard than many private agencies - or indeed state provision - and the staff get more training than they would if they worked for the council. It's not a Conservative initiative, but it is a great model for anyone to follow. The perplexing thing is why the Labour Party hasn't made more of it. Could it be for fear of offending the unions?

The government has not pointed to co-operatives as the middle way between rampant capitalism and monolithic state provision. The revolution proposed by David Cameron and George Osborne will give power to the people - and that is the problem. Labour doesn't trust people. It wants to make them sign homework forms, change their eating habits, put them under surveillance and lock them up. It prefers its cosy cabal of quangocrats to giving people freedom to determine their own destinies.

Marjorie Thompson chairs the Conservative Co-operative Movement. Read a longer version at: conservativecoops.com

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, IRAN