Martin Bright

Does George Osborne finally have a big idea?

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Listening to George Osborne on Today (and stripping away the visceral prejudice I always feel at his sneering patrician tone) I have to recognise that he was saying something very interesting.

The idea of throwing open the public sector to worker-control is very, very intriguing. Co-operatives are the future of Britain: this is not something I ever thought I would hear from the mouth of a Conservative politician. I don't know if George Osborne has any experience of living or working in a co-op (it strikes me he is not the type). They can be a mixed bag, but the principle is great one.

I have long thought Gordon Brown should have adopted the co-operative principle as the defining philosophy of his administration (Ed Balls is a Co-Operative Party MP and the party's General Secretary Michael Stephenson is also close to the PM). In 2007 I wrongly predicted it would be Brown's big idea. 

It would be astonishing if the Labour Party, with its historic links to the co-operative movement, allowed the Tories to steal this from under his nose. 

What the shadow chancellor was saying this morning could have profound implications for the way we run our society. If, as he specifically said, Jobcentres could be run as co-operatives, we could break out of the silo-based approach to work creation that currently dogs attempts to get people back to work. And if we could link Jobcentres to co-operatively-run schools and FE colleges then this starts to look genuinely revolutionary.