Sitting in my Westminster seat next to Dennis Skinner at PM's Question Time, I was ready to ask my question. (That morning's papers quoted a millionaire Tory peer claiming that Labour's education spokesman in the Lords often telephoned to offer him a school to turn into an Academy, "and if I like it I say yes" said the Tory peer.)
So when my chance came at Question Time, I put it to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, that the terms of such an exchange have no part to play in the development of our education system.?
But the man who coined the phrase education, education, education replied by praising the work of the Tory peer! Of course Tony loves academies so much he wanted business men to sponsor 400 of them. Now he has gone hopefully the ardour will cool, but the profoundly worrying aspect of his reply is that it typifies the view held at the highest political level that people drawn from business are latter day versions of Robert Owen.
But Mr Owen's belief in the values of mutuality contrast sharply with a world increasingly dominated by the imperatives of corporate and private profit taking. Of course no sensible person wants to work for an enterprise so misaligned to market demand that wages can't be paid.?
What we see now though is the triumph of finance capital over real work, exemplified by Rover where thousands of producers lost their jobs but directors walked away rewarded through shares in their secondary company set-up to finance the retail and fleet sales of Rover cars.?
This is becoming an everyday experience of workers as private equity interests buy and sell major companies, making unearned profits on the back of borrowed and hedged currency deals leaving redundant workers in their wake.
One example is the miniaturisation of computing power and the ease of communication developed by the sweat and intelligence of science and technology workers, which has paved the way for the rapid economic globalisation which produces the returns demanded by international capitalists.?
Any thoughts of mutuality, or considerations of sustainable development, are never allowed to get in the way. Paradoxically the very workers who service hungry profit seekers are also targets of cost cutters, especially in developing countries where millions of computer-based products are manufactured and assembled for wages that bear no relation to the value of the work done. The richest people in the world count their fortunes by the billion while a billion people have nothing.?
This cannot be the best way to employ the fruits of the new scientific age. Sir Tom Hunter says he will give away a billion pounds in his lifetime to the charities of his choosing. An obscenely rich car dealer pays £ 2 million for a school in which he can preach fundamentalist religion. The actions of these super rich men in charitable giving has a Victorian age feel to it but being Victorian is their only similarity to Robert Owen.?
The principle of mutuality has played no part in the fortunes these men and others like them have acquired. A fair tax system can redress some of this excess and allow society to decide democratically and according to need, how to spend the proceeds of our endeavours. Throwing off the legacy of the previous administration's admiration for men with too much money is a job that cries out to be done. Let us proclaim that we are no longer "intensely relaxed over people becoming filthy rich" but understand that we must strive to ensure incomes are related to the value of work done but at the expense of no one. In short make mutuality and co-operation bywords for a fairer world.
? Ken Purchase is Labour/Co-op MP for Wolverhampton North East.