chapter  12
Football, Community and Cooperation: A Critical Analysis of Supporter Trusts in England
ByPaul Martin
Pages 18

The heart of New Labour’s self-proclaimed radical ‘Project’[1] lies in its claims to liberate ‘Great Britain plc’ from the chains of the past and to promote its modernization into a dynamic, young country. Some, however, contend that New Labour’s ready acceptance of many aspects of the world-view, which was established during the previous 18 years of Conservative hegemony, indicates precisely its continued enthraldom

to the past.[[2]] This critique notwithstanding, those ‘on message’ stress the centrality and intended extent of such modernization in such claims as ‘New Labour has set itself a bold task: to modernise Britain socially, economically and politically’.[3] This process, they argue, will involve the sharper definition of ‘Labour’s basic convictions … and their thorough reapplication to the circumstances of the modern world’.[4] Indeed, Blair himself confirms that ‘The process of what is called “modernisation” is in reality … the application of enduring, lasting principles for a new generation’.[5] Wright has usefully articulated the significance of this in the argument that:

what is distinctive about the New Labour Project … is that it is neither a return to old labourism nor an embrace of neo-liberalism. It offers a new synthesis – of market and state, public and private, individual and collective, rights and responsibilities – that opens up a distinctive political direction.[6]

This ‘distinctive political direction’ has, of course, been labelled the ‘Third Way’ and its principal British theorist has confirmed that ‘In Britain “Third Way” has come to be associated with the politics of Tony Blair and New Labour’.[7] Of particular value to the current analysis is the same author’s contention that the ‘Third Way’ is clearly located on the political left of centre and concerns itself primarily with the renewal of social democracy. A key element of such renewal is seen as the ‘fostering of an active civil society’,[8] which would be characterized both by citizen involvement and by the development of a sense of community. Crucial to the widespread development of such ‘social capital’ is the existence of ‘trust networks that individuals can draw on for social support’.[9] These may well be located in what (in order to distinguish it from the public and private sectors) is called the ‘third’ or voluntary sector. This, as a consequence, is seen as playing an increasingly significant role in the creation of civic culture and a sense of community. For Hutton, such renewal of social democracy is most likely in what he refers to as a ‘stakeholder society’, which seeks to ensure

that individuals are not exposed to an unreasonable and unfair degree of risk … This is in part about not allowing inequality to spread too widely, in part about upholding and modernising systems of collective risk sharing, notably the welfare state, and in part about ensuring opportunities for everyone to participate fully in the country’s economic and social life.[10]

The attractiveness of this conception to New Labour leaders is clear in Blair’s use of it as the key theme in the concluding section of his ‘political vision’.[11] While it is likely that most attention has been directed to the idea of a ‘stakeholder economy’, the focus of this piece concerns its application to society and community more generally. Blair stresses this point in his discussions, arguing that a culture of stakeholding is crucial to the ‘reinvention of community’ and that in a stakeholder society, our dealings with one another would be characterized by cooperation and mutuality. Blair sees such a culture as entirely consistent with his conception of human nature and of society itself.[12] As he puts it: ‘Notions of mutuality and interdependence are not abstract ideals: they are facts of life. People are not just competitive: they are cooperative too.’[13] The status of mutualism and cooperation as ‘founding values’ of ‘Third Way’ approaches is made clear by Hargreaves and Christie:

we value cooperation both at the micro level, in the family and the firm, and in society at large. Self interest and competition are powerful forces, but they need to be channelled through frameworks of cooperation if their potential is to be exploited to best effect.[14]

This section of the essay has sought, by demonstrating the significance of principles of cooperation to ‘Third Way’ and New Labour approaches, to expose one of the roots of the current interest in Supporter Trusts. The essay will go on to analyse how this revived enthusiasm for cooperation has been articulated by writers such as Kellner and Hargreaves as the ‘New Mutualism’ and how this has been used by Michie to give a justification for Supporter Trusts. First, however, it is necessary to consider a second root of these developments in an analysis of the socio-economic context of English football since 1990.