This is a guest post by Bill Shannon, former Liberal Democrat Councillor, and Honorary Alderman of the City of Preston.Advertisement
Councillor Matthew Brown has received a lot of publicity for his Preston Model, and has now co-authored a book with Rhian E. Jones, Paint Your Town Red, which claims to show ‘how Preston took back control’. Unfortunately, no amount of rhetoric and polemic can make up for the book’s lack of evidence of quantifiable outcomes.
Apparently every recent achievement within Preston shows that The Model works – yet there is no evidence whatsoever that it has had any impact upon some of the ‘successes’ of which the Leader of Preston City Council crows. Claiming credit for the achievements of others (for example, in setting up co-ops locally) is not the same as delivering those achievements yourself.
Don’t get me wrong – Community Wealth Building is a great idea! If only we can harness the public, private, co-operative and not-for-profit sectors in a local area all to work together for the good of that area, ‘insourcing’ and keeping wealth local. However, where this idea originally came from, The Cleveland Model, not only was it not ‘party political’, but it was heavily dependent upon a large philanthropic input which is notably missing from Preston.
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Similarly the much cited Mondragon Corporation is not involved in local politics. In contrast, Matthew Brown is an old-fashioned, Old Labour, politician. Not only does he attack New Labour (p.46), but he looks back nostalgically to the days of Jeremy Corbyn – and even quotes Lenin for his insight into the present situation (p.38)!
He cannot resist the urge to politicise the Community Wealth Building idea, and in so doing alienates those local and national business people whose input and engagement is essential to the model, but who do not wish to be associated with something that is so clearly associated with one party.
Matthew would be the first to admit he is a socialist: but he then tries to drag in co-operatives into his socialist vision, failing completely to recognise that co-operatives are ‘the third way’, as different from socialism as they are from capitalism.
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My own working life was spent entirely within the co-operative sector, and I continue to be an enthusiast for co-operative solutions to today’s problems – but from its origins, the Rochdale Pioneers adopted the principle of political neutrality; and more recently the International Co-operative Alliance restated that neutrality unequivocally.
By talking of ‘Painting Your Town Red’ and linking The Preston Model so closely with socialism, Matthew is ensuring the idea will fail the next time another party takes over Preston Town Hall. If it is to succeed despite changes in the political make-up, Community Wealth Building must be de-politicised. It needs to be overseen by a committee representing those public, private, co-operative and not-for-profit sectors, chaired by someone untainted by party politics, who can be the public face of The Preston Model, and who can perhaps look to secure that philanthropic input which is so sorely missed in Preston.
I don’t want The Preston Model to fail, and I am sure Matthew doesn’t either – but the only way to ensure its long-term continuity, is for Matthew to stand down from its leadership.
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Have you read Paint Your Town Red? What did you think of the book? Let us know in the comments.