At the time of writing, there is no sign of the Co-operative Party’s new manifesto appearing on its website. However, its pamphlet on local energy cooperatives, Collective Power, has now been put online. So this provides some opportunity to see what “co-operative politics” look like in concrete, practical terms.
This proposal is for local residents and businesses to band together in energy purchasing cooperatives so that they can:
- cut their energy bills by purchasing gas and electricity from the wholesale market rather than retail energy companies (the report suggests that savings of between 10% and 20% could be achieved; and
- share the costs of implementing community-based energy efficiency methods and microgeneration systems.
It’s a fascinating idea, which the report looks at in some detail (including a number of case studies). I’d be interested to know what others think, especially since I can’t pretend to have the expertise to assess how workable it would be in practice.
(Incidentally, I do think the authors could have left out some of their more partisan digs at the Conservatives, though some of the criticisms seem well-placed: for example, the contradiction between David Cameron’s invocation of “green” causes and Conservative councils’ 80% rejection rate for wind-generation proposals.)
What I find appealing about the idea in general, though, is the cooperative model around which it’s based: a decentralised, voluntary system based on a “practical expression of self-help” among local communities. The conclusion to the document (p.29) states:
Overall, it is necessary for the Government to take a lead in making this happen, acting as a supporter, cheerleader and facilitator. While Governments cannot create social movements; through help and encouragement they can allow them to thrive.
The ‘Collective Power’ model provides a blueprint for how this can be done – building a broad based social movement by combining an appeal to self- interest with a commitment to combating climate change.
This points to a role for government that is neither coercive nor laissez-faire: one in which a desirable end is identified, and then the question is not “How do we make people do this”, but “How do we enable people to do this? What obstacles, what hidden advantages in favour of the status quo, need to be removed in order for this to happen?”
Co-operative politics may turn out to be a dead end – I’m not rushing into anything here – but I like what I’m seeing initially.