Where is the 3rd Way? Seminars have been held,
think-tanks commissioned to think, gurus seconded. Seldom can so many
brains have been stormed to so little effect.
Perhaps, to be fair, that is part of the answer - that the 3rd
Way is an innovative approach to policy making that welcomes good
ideas from wherever they come and is committed to policy activism.
(Remember Tony Blair on the final eve-of-election Party political,
explaining from his kitchen how he could not be in Number 10 without
actively pursuing policies to improve people's lives.)
This description of the 3rd way has been reported as a
Government in search of a mission. But there's no need to be cynical.
Much better to provide the ideas.
The early establishment of the Football Task Force heralded a new
approach to policy making. It was to recommend action to prevent the
new commercialism from destroying what is an important part of the
nation's social, cultural and sporting life. The example of football
is far more significant than might at first appear. The threat of
commercialism - which Tony Blair railed against personally - has
snowballed dramatically with the entry of the global media moguls who
want to use the game for purposes entirely at odds with the ones to
which the Government has committed itself.
So on the one hand the Task Force has begun to produce positive
proposals for a '3rd Way' agenda which would improve the
lives of millions. On the other hand, implementing them would require
far more political nerve than could have been envisaged when the Task
Force was established.
Firstly, the Office of Fair Trading is arguing that the league
shouldn't be allowed to act as a league.
Secondly there's now the Murdoch problem. Great store was put on
getting him and his media outlets on side. Now he wants the country's
biggest football club for himself. Partly to help his global media
empire, but also to circumvent any legislative changes. If there's an
attempt to make football clubs act individually rather than as a
league, he won't need to compete to broadcast the most popular team.
He'll own them.
So what's the Government to do?
It might still be lucky. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission
might decide that to monopolise access to viewing Manchester United,
either at the ground or on TV, would indeed restrict competition. And
the Restrictive Practices Court might decide that a league should be
allowed to function as a league.
But what if the MMC and RPC put the ball back in the Government's
court? The Government must surely do what it was elected to do. The
immediate policies are clear, obvious and simple - prohibit the
take-over of football clubs by media companies, and maintain
redistribution from the rich clubs to the poor. This already occurs
through the league system, and the recent Task Force Report proposes a
But the 3rd Way must surely go further. One of the
Government's key aims is social inclusion. Another is devolving power.
These aims could be achieved with football clubs by giving fans a
stake, both through a block of shares held in trust, and with an
elected member of the board representing that ownership stake.
This model is already working well at Northampton Town FC, as
described by the fan-Director at a February 3rd conference
on The Corporate Governance of Professional Football. The conference
also heard papers from David Conn, the author of the definitive book
on the business of football, Football Task Force member Adam Brown,
and five supporters of Barcelona FC reporting on the co-operative
ownership structure of their club, which is in effect a mutual.*
There is a 3rd Way. Neither a capitulation to
excessive commercialism, nor a return to the past. The Government
should take it.
* Papers available free of charge from Professor Michie, Birkbeck
College, London WC1E 7HX or [email protected]