In a recent interview of Sir Keir Starmer, Andrew Marr asked whether he'd nationalize the UK's major energy companies if he became Prime Minister. When Starmer answered in the negative, Marr quoted him saying in 2020,

public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders. Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water

Starmer argued such ownership need not consitute nationalization:

When it comes to common ownership I'm pragmatic about this. I do not agree with the argument that says we must be ideological.

One read of this is that Starmer's original answer meant, "I'll interpret you as asking whether if I do so it would be ideological rather than pragmatic (e.g. on a case by case basis), but I'll answer so concisely people might think I won't do it at all". But this question seeks if possible a different reading. Political philosophies are diverse, and two may have different definitions in a way that's nuanced and maybe not even a matter of consensus. Those difficulties notwithstanding, is there any way to have common ownership without shareholder profits, other than "nationalization"? In particular, this question is not about Starmer per se.

Wikipedia describes nationalization as

transforming privately-owned assets into public assets by bringing them under the public ownership of a national government or state.

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    You seem not to have considered that he was simply lying, and when caught in the lie by a well-briefed interviewer, tried to weasel his way out the best he could.
    – jamesqf
    Oct 3 '21 at 4:40
  • My best guess it that he used the common phrase that was in the party's long-term platform en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clause_IV ... before Blair.
    – Fizz
    Oct 3 '21 at 5:59
  • You may want to look through labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/… for their more contemporary thinking & terminology. In the latter doc "common ownership" appears in a section about credit cooperatives in Spain.
    – Fizz
    Oct 3 '21 at 6:07
  • @jamesqf The first read I discussed amounts to much the same. The other mundane possibility is he had the same "what's the difference?" confusion at some point (but not more recently) that my question seeks to address. I've accepted an answer that achieves just that.
    – J.G.
    Oct 3 '21 at 6:37

Nationalization implies that an industry or service is run by the national government, or at least administered and regulated by a centralized national agency.

Common ownership, by contrast, implies that the community of people served by an industry or service have more or less direct control over that industry/service without the national government acting as an intermediary. For instance, one might imagine a case in which the water and sewage needs of a community are handled by a non-profit company whose chief executives are hired (and fired) by local elections; which must file detailed public records of its actions; which must present proposed extensions, improvements, or maintenance (along with costs and rate increases) to the public for discussion and approval.

Nationalism is one form of common ownership, but by no means the only one, or the preferred one.

  • So, in practice, the only difference is one of scale? It's not "nationalization" if it doesn't have a national scale?
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 4 '21 at 4:14
  • @Ryan_L: Effectively yes, though it's a bit more complicated than that. Historically, nationalization has been associated with fascism and socialism (for different reasons: fascists wanted to harness the power of capitalist industry for the benefit of the ruling party, which socialism wanted to uproot capitalist industry for the benefit of the labor class). In other words, nationalization is usually part of an ideology trying to establish itself, whereas common ownership is generally more pragmatic, aiming to keep community services and industries in line with community interests. Oct 4 '21 at 5:17
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    Those sound like differences in motive, not method.
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 4 '21 at 5:33
  • @Ryan_L: Motives affect methods. This is human society, not computer programming. Oct 4 '21 at 13:38

Perhaps. But I'm sure the following is not what Sir Keir is suggesting

Our mindset is dominated by the "(nation) state" with "government" model of social organisation. This has proven to be a very effective and stable structure. But it is possible to imagine anarchistic societies in which there is no central government.

In such a model there can be no "nationalisation" because there is no national government. Ownership of a resource is communal, in some sense. There are multiple models of anarchism, but in one model, "labour syndicates" would democratically "own" energy production. They would benefit from their labour, but not profit from their ownership. It is also worth noting that in many models of anarchist society the demand for energy is massively reduced, and the need for complex power and transport networks is greatly reduced.

This is a form of common ownership that is not nationalisation by a socialist government. But this is (almost certainly) not what Sir Keir was talking about. He seems mean "I thought (and think?) that nationalisation is what we should do, but I'm prepared to be pragmatic about my approach to this goal, and I'm not going to start a major program of nationalisation should I get into government..."

  • How would those "labour syndicates" not profit by their ownership? Surely they would expect to be paid for their labor, and would charge customers for their product in order to get that pay. Being human, they would of course charge whatever the market would bear, and raise their pay accordingly. Just as labor unions try to increase wages as much as possible.
    – jamesqf
    Oct 3 '21 at 4:44

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