The Co-operative Party is a democratic socialist political party in the United Kingdom committed to supporting and representing co-operative principles. The party does not put up separate candidates for any UK election itself. Instead, Co-operative candidates stand jointly with the Labour Party as "Labour and Co-operative Party" candidates, and as long-standing allies of the larger and prominent Labour party, could be considered by some as a faction within the Labour Party.
Principal concerns over time
In its formative years the Co-operative Party was defensive, almost exclusively concerned with the trading and commercial problems of the co-operative movement. Since the 1930s it has widened its emphasis, using the influence it had gained through strong links with the political and commercial left to spread what it sees as the Co-operative Ethos and Moral principles. The basic principles underpinning the party are to seek recognition for co-operative enterprises, recognition for the social economy, and to advance support for co-operatives and co-operation across Europe
and the developing world. They also stand for a sustainable economy
, a culture of citizenship
and socially responsible business represented by the practice of retail and industrial co-operatives. The Co-operative Party seeks to advance its agenda through the Parliamentary Labour Party with whom they share common values and gain cabinet members.
The party today
The modern party is the political arm of the wider British co-operative
movement, with the requirement of being members of another co-operative enterprise a central tenet of membership. The party's ties with the Labour Party are as strong as ever with co-operative members who wish to stand for election also having to be members of the Labour Party, as joint Labour Co-operative candidates.
In 2005 there were 29 MPs in the Co-operative Parliamentary Group, 9 Members of the Scottish Parliament, 4 Members of the Welsh Assembly and 11 Members of the House of Lords, as well as over 700 local councillors. There is also an informal Co-operative Party group in the European Parliament.
At the local level, the Party can generally be described as being organised around the basic trading units of the retail societies. Party branches exist at an even more local level to organise local activity and liaise with Constituency Labour Parties.
Regional Party Councils / Members' Regions:
Anglia; Bath & West; Bradford & York; Bristol; Brussels; Cambridge; Chelmsford Star; Coventry & Warwick; East Kent; East of England Society; Herts and Home Counties; Leeds; Lincolnshire; Manchester; Midcounties Oxford, Swindon and Gloucester; Midcounties West Midlands; Midlands Eastern; Midlands Southern; Midlands Western; Mid Wales and Shropshire; North Eastern & Cumbria; North London; North West and North Wales; Nottingham; Plymouth & South West; Reading; Scotmid; Scottish; Sheffield; Southern; South and West Essex; South London; South Wales; South Western; Staffs & Cheshire; Surrey and Berkshire; Sussex; United North; Warrington; Wessex; West Midlands; West Wales; West Kent; Yorkshire and Humberside
Other: Co-operative Party Youth section
Funding and financial ties today
The majority of the Party's income comes from grants made by the retail co-operative societies of the UK, and from fees received for managing the political affairs of Co-operatives UK, formerly known as the Co-operative Union, an organisation linking all co-operatives operating in the UK. Local retail societies provide the majority of funding for local Party Councils, who form the basis of members contact with the party. The Party recognises several Party structures which exist without Society support (voluntary parties) as being part of the whole. Subscriptions from members also support the party financially, with 2008 membership priced at £15.
Support of candidates
As a result of the electoral agreement with the Labour Party, "Labour Co-operative
" candidates receive financial help with election expenses from the Co-operative Party, including the full funding of parliamentary candidates. Nevertheless, there are many other Labour MPs
who are Co-operative Party members but are not directly sponsored. One of these was Gareth Thomas
MP, chair of the Co-operative Party since 2001 and of the Co-operative Congress
in 2003, who was invited to join the parliamentary group in 2003. Until the 1990s, the number of Labour Co-operative candidates was capped at 30. The Party's capacity to support more than the previously agreed number is arguable, since the prospects of non-sponsored members are not always unfavourable. The benefits of this agreement are felt on both sides, with Labour gaining candidates with less election costs and this party gaining from influence within the current government. As the result of the electoral alliance, the Co-operative Party has not registered a logo with the electoral commission for use on ballot papers, as candidates use the more recognisable Labour Party "rose" logo.
Annual Conference and Leadership
The Party holds an annual conference with delegates elected by their local members by local parties and societies and discuss motions brought by them. The inaugural conference was held in 1920 in Central Hall
, with the first annual conference in Preston
in 1924. The 2006 conference was held in Sheffield
in September 2006. The 2007 conference, marking 90 years, was again held at Central Hall, Westminster.
The General Secretary until 2008 was Peter Hunt, in post since 1998 having replaced Peter Clarke.
In June 2008, Michael Stephenson, a former adviser to Tony Blair, was appointed General Secretary elect.
Joint Parliamentary Committee
The Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up in 1881 by The Co-operative Union
. Its was primarily a watchdog on parliamentary activities. Issues and legislation could be raised in the House of Commons only by lobbying sympathetic, usually Labour MPs
. As it was somewhat unsatisfactory to have to lobby MPs on each individual issue, motions were passed at the Co-operative Union Annual Congress urging direct parliamentary representation. However, for much of this early period societies would not commit funds.
The Great War
At the start of the war, the many retail societies in the Co-operative movement grew in both membership and trade, in part because of their very public anti-profiteering stance. When conscription
was introduced and food and fuel supplies restricted, these societies began to suffer. The movement was under-represented on the various governmental distribution committees and draft
tribunals. Co-operatives received minimal supplies and even management were often drafted, whereas business opponents were able to have even clerks declared vital for the war effort. Societies were also required to pay excess profits tax, although their co-operative
nature meant they made no profits.
A motion was tabled at the 1917 Congress held in Swansea by the Joint Parliamentary Committee and 104 retail societies, calling for direct representation at national and local government levels. The motion was passed by 1979 votes to 201.
Central Co-operative Parliamentary Representation Committee
An Emergency Political Conference was held on 18 October 1917
. As a result the Central Co-operative Parliamentary Representation Committee
was formed in 1917, with the objective of putting co-operators into the House of Commons
. This was soon re-named the Co-operative Party. The first national secretary was Samuel Perry
, later a Member of Parliament and the father of Fred Perry
At first the party put forward its own candidates. The first was H J May, later Secretary of the International Co-operative Alliance, who was unsuccessful at the 1918 Prestwich by-election. Ten then stood in the 1918 general election. One candidate met with success: Alfred Waterson who became a Member of Parliament for the Kettering seat. Waterson took the Labour whip in Parliament. In 1919, 151 Co-operative Party councillors were elected at local level. Waterson retired from Parliament in 1922, but four new Co-operative MPs were elected that same year, including A.V. Alexander, all of whom took the Labour whip. Six were elected in 1923 and five in 1924.
However, since the 1927 Cheltenham Agreement, the party has had an electoral agreement with the Labour Party, which allows for a limited number of Labour Co-operative candidates. This means that the parties involved do not oppose each other. The agreement has been amended several times, most recently in 2003, which was made in the name of the Co-operative Party rather than the Co-operative Union. After the formal agreement, nine Labour Co-operative MPs were elected at the 1929 general election, and Alexander was made a cabinet minister. However, only one was returned at the 1931 election against the backdrop of a massive defeat for Labour.
The rise of the sister party
Labour's recovery as a credible party of government during World War II
and the formal links and local affiliations brought by the 1927 agreement saw benefits electorally for the Co-operative Party. In 1945, 23 Labour Co-operative MPs were elected and two had high office in the Labour government - Alexander and Alfred Barnes
, who had been chair of the Party.
But with Labour's fluctuating fortunes and the slow post-war decline of the co-operative movement, the Party saw its influence and standing fall. By 1983, another nadir for Labour fortunes, only eight Labour Co-operative MPs were elected. However, in 1997, all 23 candidates won seats in Parliament and, in 2001, only one was defeated, Faye Tinnion who had stood against the Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague. The favourable stance of the Labour government, particularly Gordon Brown, to co-operative principles of self-help, enterprise and accountability allowed the co-operative movement to make representations, and sponsor important bills on updating company law, employee share ownership and micro-generation of energy.
Chairs of the Co-operative Party
- 1918-1924 Mr W. H. Watkins
- 1924-1945 Mr Alfred Barnes MP
- 1945-1955 Mr William Coldrick MP
- 1955-1957 Mr Albert Ballard
- 1957-1965 Mr James, later Lord, Peddie
- 1965-1972 Mr Herbert Kemp CSD, JP
- 1972-1978 Mr John Parkinson
- 1978-1982 Mr Tom Turvey JP
- 1982-1989 Mr Brian Hellowell
- 1989-1995 Mrs Jessie Carnegie
- 1995-1996 Mr Peter Nurse
- 1996-2001 Mr Jim Lee
- 2001-present Mr Gareth Thomas MP
Noted co-op politicians
See Co-operative Party politicians and List of Labour Co-operative Members of Parliament for wider lists.
Nicholas Russell, the 6th Earl Russell (and grandson of the philosopher, 3rd Earl Bertrand Russell) is a strong supporter of the Co-operative Party and secretary of its Waltham Forest branch; he is vocal in his call for the abolition of the House of Lords.
- The Co-operative Party - At a Glance (2003), John Blizzard & Richard Tomlinson, The Co-operative Party.