Saturday, 2 November 2013

Small business and the new Mutual Party

Do you remember the Australian Democrats?  They were the real 'Liberals' in Australian politics and dared to use the slogan 'Keep the bastards honest' in their elections since 1980.

Despite the daring of the slogan, and the horrified admiration from some Lib Dem campaigners I know over here, the slogan wasn't really a success.  The party lost all its national representation in 2007 and are now down to 0.3 per cent of the vote.  We might perhaps diagnose their difficulty as a party which did not really know what it was.

Such is the danger of the Lib Dem besetting sin - to paper over ideological cracks with narratives that are all about process and positioning.  It works for a bit but then, like the Democrats, there seems no real purpose and the whole thing just implodes.

So I was fascinated to see there is a new radical Liberal-style party in Australian politics, and they call themselves the Mutual Party.

What I find so interesting about this is that it may be a glimpse of what a new Liberal Party would look like anywhere, if it started now, without some of its peculiar baggage - because it is both recognisably Liberal and also obviously modern.

The Mutual Party has emerged out of the Australian Centre for Civil Society, and stands for mutualism, localism and breaking up concentrations of economic power.  This is how they put it:
  • Support for self-employment, small businesses and independent owners - a wide distribution of ownership of economic assets and property and the breakup of concentrations of economic and market power.
  • Support for civil society - a strengthening of community groups, voluntary associations, support networks, social enterprises, cooperatives and mutuals.
  • Individualised funding for consumers and families - self-directed services and individual budgets in disability, mental health, ageing, education, and social services.
  • Governance reform in democracy, parliament and public institutions -innovation in public voice and citizen empowerment and the end of career politicians.
It is recognisably a close relative of the Liberal Democrats in the UK.  But the UK Lib Dems have a peculiar blindness about economics, or perhaps a baggage drawn from a century or so of buffetting by the great argument between right and left - state or private ownership - now a monumental irrelevance.

Sure enough, this is what the Mutual Party says:

"The big ideological dispute in the 20th century was between liberalism (based on individuals) and socialism (based on the state). That dispute is now over."

Years ago, I pointed out to the Lib Dem leader at the time that it was significant that, even though we had only a handful of seats, most of them were in the top ten local authority areas for self-employment.

He didn't agree with me and I thought then - and think now - that we are missing an opportunity to align ourselves alongside the real entrepreneurs.  It looks like the new Mutual Party has done so.


ChrisJCook said...

It's for the same 'co-operative individualism' reason that Co-ops have always thrived in the most redneck US areas

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