Co-operative Politics - Reborn?

Some commentators questioned whether the Co-operative Party's 2014 Annual Conference might be its last. A year on, our Party is moving forward and preparing to help shape the future of the co-operative and labour movements.

Some commentators questioned whether the Co-operative Party's 2014 Annual Conference might be its last. A year on, our Party is moving forward and preparing to help shape the future of the co-operative and labour movements.

Even to its supporters, the Co-operative Party can seem like a peculiar thing. Why should a chain of shops selling bread and apples have their own political party? And what exactly is its relationship with Labour?

It is easy to fall back on nostalgia and familiarity: our mother or grandmother's divi number and the Rochdale Pioneers. But to make a real impact, we have to explain why a set of ideas, principles and relationships which have been at the heart of British progressive politics since the very beginning still matter.

Co-operation is inherently political. The radicals who founded the first co-operatives were among those who also fought to unionise their workplaces, and who battled for parliamentary representation at Peterloo.

Whether a fair day's pay or a fair price for decent everyday essentials, they knew that political change begins with collective action. In a society that continues to be dominated by economic and political privilege, those forms of local, collective organising are the key to reviving the Left.

And in the past year, we have begun dusting off those arguments and making a renewed case for co-operative politics. The impetus came at the end of last year when the Co-operative Group, Britain's largest co-op and the successor to the hundreds of co-ops that founded the Party, held a vote at its AGM calling the continuing relationship into question.

Following a successful campaign earlier in the year, and the work of tens of thousands of us, the Group's link with the Party was renewed. But we're well aware that questions about why and how the co-operative movement engages in politics won't be going away, and that the future of the Co-operative Party lies in continuing to clearly and confidently make the case for co-operative ideas in politics.

And that's what this year's Co-operative Party Conference set out to do. This year's event was entitled 'The Party, the Politics and the Movement'. Bringing together hundreds of members and friends of the Party, the weekend focused on how we revitalise and better serve the movement and communities that created us.

We were joined by Co-operative MPs including Stella Creasy, Seema Malhotra, Gavin Shuker, Stephen Twigg, Meg Hillier and Steve Reed, as well as many of our leading councillors who, in power in local government and by giving local people control over their services, are setting the direction for Whitehall to follow.

Also present were voices from the wider labour and co-operative movements such as Dave Ward, General Secretary of the CWU, who spoke about their 'People's Post' campaign and how we will be working together to make the case for a collective voice for employee shareholders. We also heard from Ramsay Dunning of Midcounties Co-operative, which is leading the way in promoting the Fair Tax Mark as the new standard for responsible business.

With a new Labour leadership team in place, we're looking forward to working with them all to hold the government to account and to lay the groundwork for a return to power.

The Co-operative Party will be a strong voice for co-operation through this Parliament. We will ensure that important agendas such as devolution actually deliver for local people and communities. And as more powers are handed down to local authorities (many of which are co-operative councils) we know that mutual models such as community-owned local buses are a viable option and deserve support.

We'll continue to be vocal campaigners too, championing reforms to the BBC that give ordinary license fee payers a greater say and which make the Corporation more accountable while crucially maintaining its independence. And - as our movements have always done - we will stand together in opposing the Trade Union Bill and for extending the voice of employees in the workplace.

So if last year's Conference was the year in which we focused on the 'Co-operative Difference', then this year's was the one in which we reaffirmed the political objectives that are at the heart of the co-operative movement's purpose, and our links with the labour and co-operative movements that have enabled us to achieve so much together.

I look forward to seeing you there next year - and the one after that too(!)


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