THE BLOG
19/03/2015 05:46 GMT | Updated 18/05/2015 06:59 BST

The Co-operative Group Must Keep It Co-op

The Co-operative Group is not like other businesses. Owned by its millions of members and famous for pioneering ethical business and Fairtrade, the Co-op has never been just an ordinary supermarket.

Despite its high profile difficulties in the last year or two, the Co-operative brand commands high levels of trust, respect and loyalty.

It is also unusual in another respect, in being the largest business in the UK co-operative movement which is represented by its own radical and progressive political party - the Co-operative Party. Or at least it is now.

In May, millions of the Co-operative Group's member-owners will have a chance to vote in elections to the Group's new Board, and its 100-strong membership council.

They will also be asked to vote on whether the Co-operative Group keeps its historic link with the Co-operative Party, set up by more than 100 co-operative businesses in 1917. These co-operative retail societies, the forbears of today's Co-op, decided that political representation was the way to defend themselves against the vested interests that were attacking them, and would be part of how they could realise their vision of a better society.

Newer brooms at the Co-op Group don't seem to see it that way. Euan Sutherland, who served as chief executive for ten months up to March 2014, said the Group's membership of the Party was "the weirdest link." There are fears among members that this attitude persists at Co-op HQ in Manchester, and that moves to end the partnership will come to a head in the next few weeks.

This would be the wrong decision, at the wrong time.

In recent years the whole country has been debating business responsibility and how we can get the economy working in the interests of consumers and working people. The co-operative movement is thriving, sharing profits with members and employees, and offers a real life example of what is possible.

Between 2008 and 2013, while growth in the UK economy largely stalled, the size of the co-operative economy grew by 13.5%, with the number of co-op businesses growing by 26% and a 17% increase in the number of member owners. These businesses are owned by their members, existing to meet the needs of those members - not create short-term profit for private shareholders.

The Co-operative Party believes there is a real opportunity to put co-operative values at the heart of a radical reform of Britain's economy so that more employees are able to share in the ownership, decision making and profits of Britain's businesses.

We believe Britain needs an energy revolution, with the majority of its electricity provided through renewable sources and more than half of this supply generated by community energy groups. We believe Network Rail should be set up as a mutual, giving passengers and employees a real say in how the railway is run.

An effective Co-operative Party is an essential partner if the Co-operative Group wants to be at the centre of this co-operative resurgence. That is why the Party has launched the 'Keep It Co-op' campaign asking Co-op members to support our continued partnership at the campaign website www.keepit.coop

If you are a member of the Co-operative Group and want a Britain where power is shared more equally, where the fruits of economic success are spread more widely and where power is exercised by the many not the few, then make your voice heard at www.keepit.coop

By having an open and proud commitment to changing the world, the Co-operative Group has helped make history, and made Britain a better place. It should stay true to the values and principles that have made it such an important voice in progressive politics for so long.