progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

the Darlington debate

To Polam Hall on Thursday for the hustings organised by Churches Together in Darlington. This lasted two hours. I'm not saying it was a bad experience - I managed to miss the national debate on the economy, at least. But that's two hours I'm never going to get back.

"Integrity of Purpose: The Common Good in Darlington" is the challenge to prospective parliamentary candidates - yes, all of them.

Thankfully, one of the fringe candidates couldn't make it due to being heavily pregnant(!) The other, UKIP's Charlotte Bull was no doubt well meaning, but pretty much clueless on issues not related to Brussels. For example, her vocal support for NHS privatisation made the Labour candidate's jaw drop (and mouth the words "oh my god" in disbelief).

Well, the other big-c Conservative, Edward Legard, was a much better speaker - terribly arrogant, as you'd expect of a Tory lawyer, but he managed to escape the stereotype with his strident opposition to the war in Iraq - something which, he claimed, had encouraged him to get involved in politics. He did not agree to Cameron's Broken Britain claim - something siezed upon by the Labour and Lib-Dem candidates - and claimed it was the economy that was broken.

Mike Barker, the Liberal Democrat candidate, spoke of his early interest in politics being sparked by the dockers' leader Jack Dash - the Arthur Scargil of his day, demonised by the Tory press. Sadly, Mike was not so radical, and left the Labour Party by way of the SDP...

Jenny Chapman, the Labour candidate, spoke movingly of the events which led her to become actively involved in politics - tragedies occuring because of health inequalities and under-investment in the NHS. When questioned on commissioning of services in the NHS, rather than direct provision, she said that while it was here to stay, it could be used to improve services. Jenny said that she does not want to be Labour's representative in Darlington, but Darlington's representative in parliament.

The issue of public transport led to all candidates agreeing that action was needed. I regret not asking a follow up question on this issue - not least because for the Tory candidate to agree seemed at odds with his party's tradition of selling off public services and utilities to their backers.

Such were the numbers of people in attendance, I was too nervous to submit a question. If I had, it would have been on the excellent question in the Integrity document: "would you support the development of new models of worker co-operative ownership along the lines of the Mondragon Corporation in Spain?"

Naturally, the Labour candidate submitted the best response to this question, noting that the party's sister is the Co-operative Party, the political wing of the co-operative movement in the UK:

We can learn a great deal from different models of enterprise, like Mondragon, where the needs of the workers are prioritised. Even though all businesses are affected by the global financial crisis, there is less unemployment within the Mondgragon businesses as people are moved around to other jobs, or hours are cut without cutting pay. The wages for unworked hours are repaid through extra hours worked later in the year.

While most businesses determine voting power based on how many company shares a person owns, cooperatives can allocate each worker one vote. Mondragon co-operatives also stick to a more egalitarian pay scale—top management is rarely paid more than six times the lowest-paid worker. Profits and losses are distributed among all the members equitably because their efforts together determine the success of the company.

There will be opportunities for more co-operatives in Darlington, and I am committed to supporting them.

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