Ok, I'm going to write about something I know very little about. I will ignore the shouts of "what's new?" I can hear in the distance.
Today liberal think tank Centre Forum has published a plan by Stephen Williams, Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West, which would involve shares in the banks bailed out by the taxpayer being distributed free of charge to British people for them to do what they liked with.
My gut instinct is to be opposed to it. Not because it isn't a good idea to give ordinary people a say in how businesses are run. Part of the argument for doing so is that ordinary people would have a say in how the banks were run. That'll be like they have a real say in how privatised utilities are run, then. I'm not aware of any of the privatised utility companies being particularly people centred in their approach, and in reality, they are mainly owned by corporate, rather than individual shareholders. The likelihood of you or I ever being able to influence the banks' future strategy is pretty minimal.
Industrial democracy has long been a key part of liberal thinking, and rightly so, but I'm not sure the time is right for this scheme. We own £65.8 billion of the banks. The country's deficit is £155 billion - with some of that being the money we had to borrow to bail out the banks. Are we not better off as a country selling the shares in the banks and using the proceeds to pay back our loans or to provide better public services for those who need them? It seems to me to be almost rude to be talking about giving shares to people when they're seeing their Councils cutting services they rely on or central government cutting benefits they desperately need.
I think I understand the thinking - wanting to give people a stake in the banks they bailed out and giving a small investment or windfall. But surely the industry's problems are more effectively solved by regulating the banks that matter to ordinary people within an inch of their lives. The idea that we as shareholders would all turn up and vote against massive bonuses isn't credible to me. It just seems that we have more important and pressing things to do with public money than give away to individuals what could be used to provide better services for us all.
What do you think?