Social Economy Alliance launches political face swap campaign

Key figures from the political left and right are featured in a new advertising campaign launched by the Social Economy Alliance to promote its manifesto for the 2015...

Key figures from the political left and right are featured in a new advertising campaign launched by the Social Economy Alliance to promote its manifesto for the 2015 general election. The adverts include merged faces of Boris Johnson and Karl Marx, Ronald Reagan and Fidel Castro, Angela Merkel and John Prescott, and Margaret Thatcher and Che Guevara.

With the slogan “a revolution is happening”, the campaign created by Paul Belford for the Social Economy Alliance challenges political parties to “ditch traditional left-right notions of business against society or markets against the state” and instead support the social economy. It was designed to address the left-right divide that marked the 20th century economic thinking in Britain which, according to the Alliance, “has left business and society pitted against each other”.

Celia Richardson, director of the Social Economy Alliance, explained: “Our message to the parties ahead of the election is that they must avoid deadlock by using the best ideas – often a smart combination of ‘left and right’. Business can be a vehicle for social change, and markets can be used for society’s benefit. Our political leaders need to get behind the sort of economy that voters are already building.”

The Alliance comprises more than 400 social enterprises, organisations, universities, charities and think tanks as well as 24 founding partner organisations that include Co-operatives UKCo-operative Energy, the Welsh Co-operative Centre and Supporters Direct.

The Manifesto makes 25 recommendations to build a pro-social economy in the UK, such as providing a new “right to buy” option for communities that would enable people to have genuine ownership of the local infrastructure and services they rely on.

In its manifesto, the Alliance highlights that citizens and businesses are likely to make pro-social choices if and when these are available. It calls for a solidarity fund inspired by the French model, where pension fund managers must offer all savers an option of investing in businesses which benefit the society. The manifesto also asks for new powers to prevent land banking while opening up land for productive use.

Another recommendation of the manifesto is strengthening social-value laws to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent with companies that provide social value, pay a living wage and are open about their tax arrangements.

The Alliance also believes that budgets and decision-making powers should be handed to the most local level appropriate, which it claims could save an estimated £16bn a year and help improve public services. The manifesto argues that people should be given more power in decision-making on public services through a Public Service Users’ Bill.

Furthermore, the Alliance proposes the creation of a new social value unit to measure and grow social and economic value, and the use of the tax system to incentivise more socially and environmentally responsible business models. As for the banking world, the manifesto calls for a community banking act to promote fair finance and a diverse banking sector.

Celia Richardson thinks great ideas tend to emerge in tough economic times, pointing out that, since the beginning of the financial crisis the number of co-operatives in the UK has increased by more than a quarter. Social enterprises also have three times the start-up rate of traditional businesses, accounting for 15% of all small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“Social enterprises and co-ops are outperforming traditional for-private-profit businesses for growth and optimism,” she said. “Our political leaders must support the social economy alternatives that people are creating for themselves, such as community energy schemes, social enterprise nurseries and co-operative housing.”

“Across the globe the race is on to build socially productive businesses and democratise markets. The UK is ahead in many ways, but our old-fashioned left-right notions often mean our economic policies get in the way, where state ‘vs’ market thinking makes it tougher for social economy alternatives to thrive. This is storing up problems for generations to come.”

James Wright, policy officer at Co-operatives UK, added: “Co-ops are a key part of the social economy, allowing people to pool resources and help each other as well as themselves.

“By acting together rather than as atomised economic actors, people can move from passive workers and consumers to active economic citizens, strengthening their position in the marketplace and ensuring more businesses operate a triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

“The policy ideas the Alliance brings to the general election debate offer a way out of tired state market dichotomies. Whoever governs after May 2015 will need to take note of the Alliance’s recommendations.”

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