If you sense a disturbance in the force, then that's because this week has seen the launch of the Alliance for the Social Economy. The Alliance aims to radically affect the way political parties think about the economy in the lead up to the next election. It includes Co-operatives UK, the Young Foundation, the New Economics Foundation, Social Enterprise UK and many more.
Why is this necessary? Hasn't David Cameron already talked about moral capitalism? Hasn't Francis Maude recently converted to the merits of mutuals? Doesn't Ed Miliband espouse responsible capitalism and don't Labour argue that business should carry some of the weight that falls on the state? Hasn't Vince Cable attacked casino capitalism and haven't the Lib Dems called for more alternative banks and wider employee ownership?
Yes. But I find their lack of faith disturbing. In practice, the powers that be continue to spend billions propping up tired old models of casino capitalism. They strike deals with big businesses who have been avoiding tax. They allow wealth to concentrate in the hands of the few. They talk the talk of Philip Blond while walking the walk of Philip Green.
I have a bad feeling about this. It illustrates the incredible power and influence of the dark side, able to persuade our politicians that, despite the rhetoric, in practice there is no alternative. Take the Government's review into alternative finance, for example. This was led by Tim Breedon from the Board of, er, Barclays. Tim was supported by colleagues with careers at HSBC, the London Stock Exchange, Lehman and McKinsey. Sorry Minister, these may be clever people with significant experience of investment banking and mainstream financial services. But they aren't the alternative finance experts you're looking for.
The truth is that until now, the conventional wisdom has looked at the social economy and said: "What a piece of junk!" Fear is the path to the dark side and those in power are afraid to end the addiction to business as usual, caving in to quick fixes, a blast of QE here, a short-term boost for the housing market there, or a new round of debt fuelled consumerism to keep the empire afloat. Perhaps we can find new ways to motivate them? There is another...
The bottom line is that the evidence says a social economy is a more successful economy. The Global Alliance for Banking Values reports that alternative banks like Triodos deliver better returns and greater stability. Evidence this week from Co-operatives UK reveals that turnover of co-operatives has risen by 3.3% in the last 12 months, building on impressive figures throughout the economic crisis. Forthcoming data from a Social Enterprise UK survey reinforces a range of evidence that social enterprises are outperforming red-blooded business at their own game, as well as creating social and environmental value, jobs and opportunity in deprived areas. A growing proportion of start-ups are socially motivated.
Impressive, most impressive. But don't get cocky. It's not an easy mission getting this message to reach its target, through the defences of those protecting vested interests. One day, we hope that the social economy will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine. The crisis of debt-fuelled casino capitalism can father a new hope - more responsible and moral markets led by an alliance of organisations and businesses who believe in the power of an alternative force. Then the circle will be complete - a more social economy that delivers economic, social and environmental value, helping relieve the pressure from both the public finances and civil society. Search your feelings.Suggest a correction