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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 November 2007, 13:28 GMT
Cameron's co-operative coup?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

Bare-faced cheek, extreme political cross dressing or a return to Tory roots? Either way, David Cameron's plans to create the Conservative Co-operative Movement is breathtaking.

Conservative leader David Cameron
Mr Cameron appears to have adopted a socialist idea
It threatens to send the 29 Labour and Co-operative MPs - including Gordon Brown's closest ally Ed Balls - into paroxysms of rage, or perhaps laughter, at the sheer nerve of a Tory leader attempting, in their eyes, to steal the clothes of Robert Owen, founder of the Co-operative movement and since dubbed the father of English socialism.

There are more than a few Tory MPs who will be rocked back on their heels at the notion their party, just like the Labour Party, now has a co-operative wing, presumably embracing similar values.

Those values, as spelt out by the Co-operative Party include equality, equity and solidarity and its manifesto calls for, amongst other things, converting the utility monopolies into mutual organisations.

And it is already being asked whether this is another deliberate attempt by Mr Cameron to re-model his party and taunt the old, traditionalists into some sort of showdown.

Indeed, in his speech in Manchester launching the initiative, he once again distanced himself by Margaret Thatcher's famous quote by declaring Conservatives believe: "There is such a thing as society."

Social progress

But Mr Cameron's argument is that the Co-operative movement is not necessarily socialist and, by using the title Pioneer Schools - after the Rochdale Pioneers - for his first proposals under this new co-operative approach, he is harking back to the very early days of the movement before it was irrevocably aligned with socialism.

Gordon Brown and Ed Balls
Brown's friend Balls is Co-operative MP

The Tory leader claims his notion of pushing power down to individuals and organisations like schools and hospitals is true Conservatism and fits perfectly into the co-operative model.

"The co-operative principle captures precisely the vision of social progress that we on the centre-right believe in - the idea of social responsibility, that we're all in this together, that there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state," he said.

Similarly, his statement that the movement will campaign for "public ownership of public services and public facilities", does not mean he believes in state ownership of those services.

That really would be a Clause 4 moment, echoing that famous, ditched Labour demand to seek public ownership of the means of production.

As it is, it remains to be seen whether Cameron's undoubtedly radical initiative finds widespread favour with voters, his own party and those who work in schools.

In full: Cameron's co-op speech
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