Pro-Corbyn academics to launch leftwing think-tank

Academics supporting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will on Thursday launch a think-tank designed to flesh out the bones of the UK opposition party’s economic agenda.

The new group, Common Wealth, said it wanted to design new “ownership models” for a more sustainable future economy. This would involve not only the nationalisation of utility companies including water, power distribution and the Royal Mail, but also greater use of co-operatives and more public involvement in ownership models.

Ed Miliband, who was leader of the Labour party before Mr Corbyn, will sit on the new group’s advisory board.

Its founder, Mathew Lawrence, an influential figure in leftwing Labour circles, was the co-author of the “inclusive ownership fund” idea, which has since been adopted by shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

This controversial policy involves the transfer of 10 per cent of the shares in all big UK-based companies, worth hundreds of billions of pounds, to their workers over a decade. While workers would receive dividends of up to £500 a year, any payments over that threshold would be diverted to the state coffers.

Those behind the new group believe that it fills a vacuum given the relative lack of think-tanks in Britain on the left of politics while there is a plethora of centrist and rightwing research groups.

Only a handful of think-tanks enjoy close relations with the Labour party, including the centre-left IPPR and the New Economics Foundation.

Mr Lawrence is a former senior research fellow on the IPPR’s Commission on Economic Justice, which last year issued an influential report by figures from business, trade unions, academics and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, calling for higher wages, greater government investment and workers on boards.

Mr Lawrence came up with the inclusive ownership fund in a paper by NEF called “Co-Operatives Unleashed” published in July last year. The policy was adopted by Mr McDonnell during the Labour conference in late September in one of the biggest surprises of the event.

He said that Common Wealth would focus on “transforming and democratising” the ownership of business, finance, data and digital technologies, the environment and land.

Mr McDonnell said he “warmly welcomed” the launch of the think-tank, saying it would “help us broaden our imaginations and build up the evidence base for our policies”.

The organisation will also seek to provide the intellectual framework for a UK version of the “Green New Deal” in the US backed by leftwing Democrats, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Forthcoming publications by Common Wealth in the months ahead include a report into inequalities in land ownership, a plan for reshaping ownership of digital infrastructure and a plan for democratising corporate ownership.

Mr Lawrence said the question of who owned and controlled the wealth of society was a fundamental question in 2019. “Just as nationalisation underpinned the postwar consensus and privatisation drove Thatcherism, new pluralistic and democratic models of ownership will be vital to moving beyond neoliberalism,” he said.

Meanwhile, Labour will on Thursday pledge £1.3bn of new funding to reverse cuts made to 3,000 bus routes since 2010 under the Tory-led government.

The money will be funded by switching £7.1bn of vehicle excise duty, which is currently scheduled to be allocated to a new roads fund from 2020-21. The road-building planned by the current government would under Labour instead be funded through capital borrowing.


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