Co-operative Party

The Co-operative Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom supporting co-operative values and principles. Established in 1917, the Co-operative Party was founded by co-operative societies to campaign politically for the fairer treatment of co-operative enterprise and to elect 'co-operators' to Parliament. The party's roots lie in the Parliamentary Committee of the Co-operative Union established in 1881.

The Co-operative Party
ChairpersonJim McMahon
General SecretaryJoe Fortune
Founded17 October 1917 (1917-10-17)
Headquarters83 Crampton Street
London SE17 3BQ
Youth wingCo-operative Party Youth
Membership (2020) 12,067[1]
Social democracy
British unionism[2][3]
Political positionCentre-left
National affiliationLabour and Co-operative
House of Commons[5]
25 / 650
House of Lords[5]
16 / 792
Scottish Parliament[5]
11 / 129
16 / 60
Local Government[5]
938 / 19,698
London Assembly
11 / 25
Police & Crime Commissioners[5]
7 / 39
Directly elected mayors[5]
9 / 25

Since 1927, the Co-operative Party has had an electoral pact with the Labour Party, with both parties agreeing not to stand candidates against each other. Instead, candidates selected by members of both parties contest elections using the description of Labour and Co-operative Party.[6] The Co-operative Party is a legally separate entity from the Labour Party, and is registered as a political party with the Electoral Commission.[7] Co-operative Party members are not permitted to be members of any other political party in the UK apart from the Labour Party or Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

The Co-operative Party is de-facto the fourth-largest party in the House of Commons with 25 Members of Parliament, although as all of its MPs sit in the Parliamentary Labour Party, this distinction is seldom made. It also has representatives in the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd, the London Assembly and local government.

In keeping with its co-operative values and principles, the Co-operative Party does not have a leader. Instead Joe Fortune serves as General Secretary, Preet Kaur Gill serves as Chair of the Co-operative Party Parliamentary Group, and Jim McMahon as Chair of the Co-operative Party National Executive Committee.


The Co-operative Party was formed in 1917 after being approved by the May Congress of the British co-operative movement held in Swansea.[8][9] Since an electoral pact established in 1927, the party has stood joint candidates with the Labour Party.[10] In 1938, a written constitution was adopted by the Co-operative Party which formalised links between the two parties, and in 1946 Co-operative candidates first stood in elections under the Labour Co-operative banner.[8][11]

In its formative years the Co-operative Party was almost exclusively concerned with the trading and commercial problems of the co-operative movement. Since the 1930s, it has widened its emphasis, using influence gained through strong links with the political and commercial left to spread what it sees as 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. The party stands for a sustainable economy and society, 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 it shares common values.

Joint Parliamentary Committee

The Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up in 1881 by The Co-operative Union. It 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.

First World 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.[8]

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 renamed the Co-operative Party. The first national secretary was Samuel Perry, later a Member of Parliament and the father of Fred Perry.[12]

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 January 1918 Prestwich by-election. Ten then stood in the 1918 general election.[8] 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.

Co-operative Party logo used until February 2019.

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 held 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, after Labour assumed power, the party gained its first members of the Cabinet since AV Alexander: Alun Michael 1998–99 (later First Minister for Wales) and Ed Balls 2007–2010. In 2001, only one candidate was defeated: Faye Tinnion, who had stood against the Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague.

Organisation and structure

The Co-operative Party is a membership organisation consisting of individual members as well as local, regional and national Co-operative Parties and affiliated co-operative societies and trade unions. Unlike other parties with representatives elected to Parliament, the Co-operative Party doesn't receive state funding and gets most of its income from membership subscriptions and affiliation fees.[13]

The Party's highest decision making body is the National Executive Committee (NEC), which is elected every three years by individual members, affiliated co-operatives and trade unions, the Co-operative Party Parliamentary Group, and Co-operatives UK.[14]

An Annual Conference takes place each autumn to debate policy, discuss the Party's work and vote on motions, although its resolutions are only advisory on the NEC.[15]

The Co-operative Party Parliamentary Group co-ordinates the work of the Party's MPs and Peers in Parliament.


Six of the UK's largest consumer co-operatives are affiliated to the Co-operative Party: the Co-operative Group, Midcounties Co-operative, Central England Co-operative, East of England Co-operative, Scotmid Co-operative and Chelmsford Star Co-operative.[13]

The members of each co-operative society vote to approve affiliation to the Party at their annual general meeting. The largest society and funder of the Party is the Co-operative Group, which ballots its members each year on continued support for the Co-operative Party. At the May 2019 AGM, 79% of Co-operative Group members voted in favour of continued affiliation.[16]

In 2016 Community became the first trade union to affiliate to the Co-operative Party,[17] followed in 2018 by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw).[18]

Co-operatives UK, Co-operative Press and a number of worker co-operatives and housing co-operatives are also organisational members of the Party.[13]

Local structure

The local structure of the Co-operative Party's is based on autonomous units known as Society Co-operative Parties, which operate in a similar way to Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs).[19]

Co-operative societies sponsor Society Co-operative Parties in their traditional areas of operation, which will often take the name of the supporting society (i.e. East of England Co-operative Party and East of England Co-operative).

Society Co-operative Parties usually have a number of branches covering one or more local authority area, which are the main way that individual members interact with the Party to debate policy, select candidates for elections and liaise with Constituency Labour Parties. The Society Co-operative Party is overseen by a party council made up of delegates from branches and the supporting co-operative society.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have a single national Society Co-operative Party. In England a local party will cover one or more county, or in some cases a full region.[20]

Labour and Co-operative Party

The Co-operative Party and Labour Party have had an electoral alliance known as the 'National Agreement' since 1927, meaning they don't stand against each other in elections.[6] Instead both parties agree joint candidates to stand as Labour and Co-operative Party.

Labour and Co-operative candidates can stand at elections at all levels in England, Scotland and Wales. Although both parties organise in Northern Ireland, they don't stand candidates for election.

As a sister party, the Co-operative Party has a unique relationship with the Labour Party meaning it doesn't affiliate at a UK level. Instead local Society Co-operative Parties affiliate to Constituency Labour Parties, which facilitates local co-operation and the selection of joint candidates.[6]

Most candidates use the Labour and Co-operative Party description on their ballot paper, however some stand under another version, particularly for local government elections and elections in Scotland, Wales and London that use a list system. In this case only one description will be used to avoid voters thinking Labour and Co-operative candidates are standing against Labour candidates; however joint candidates are still recognised as part of the Labour and Co-operative Group if they are elected.[21]

Although only the Labour Party emblem is used on the ballot paper, candidates and representatives can use a joint logo on their printed materials and websites.


The Co-operative Party does not have a single leader, with the responsibilities shared between Jim McMahon as Chair of the National Executive Committee, Preet Kaur Gill as Chair of the Co-operative Party Parliamentary Group, and Joe Fortune as General Secretary, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the Party.

Chairs of the Co-operative Party

General Secretaries of the Co-operative Party

Electoral representation

The modern party is the political arm of the wider British co-operative movement and membership of another co-operative enterprise is a requirement for candidates. Co-operative members who wish to stand for election must also be members of the Labour Party, and stand as Labour and Co-operative Party candidates.[6]

Electoral performance

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Election Seats ± Government
1 / 707
1 Coalition LiberalConservative
4 / 615
3 Conservative
6 / 625
2 Labour minority
5 / 615
1 Conservative
9 / 615
4 Labour minority
1 / 615
8 National LabourConservativeLiberal
9 / 615
8 ConservativeNational LabourLiberal National
23 / 640
14 Labour
18 / 625
5 Labour
16 / 625
2 Conservative
19 / 630
3 Conservative
16 / 630
3 Conservative
19 / 630
3 Labour
18 / 630
1 Labour
15 / 630
3 Conservative
14 / 635
1 Labour minority
14 / 635
17 / 635
3 Conservative
7 / 650
10 Conservative
9 / 650
2 Conservative
14 / 651
5 Conservative
28 / 659
14 Labour
30 / 659
2 Labour
29 / 646
1 Labour
28 / 650
1 ConservativeLib Dem
24 / 650
4 Conservative
38 / 650
14 Conservative minority
with DUP confidence and supply
26 / 650
12 Conservative

House of Commons

There are 25 Labour and Co-operative MPs in the House of Commons.

Jonathan AshworthLeicester South
Stella CreasyWalthamstow
Geraint DaviesSwansea West
Anneliese DoddsOxford East
Stephen DoughtyCardiff South and Penarth
Florence EshalomiVauxhall
Chris EvansIslwyn
Preet GillBirmingham, Edgbaston
Mark HendrickPreston
Meg HillierHackney South and Shoreditch
Seema MalhotraFeltham and Heston
Rachael MaskellYork Central
Jim McMahonOldham West and Royton
James MurrayEaling North
Alex NorrisNottingham North
Kate OsamorEdmonton
Luke PollardPlymouth, Sutton and Devonport
Lucy PowellManchester Central
Steve ReedCroydon North
Christina ReesNeath
Jonathan ReynoldsStalybridge and Hyde
Lloyd Russell-MoyleBrighton, Kemptown
Barry SheermanHuddersfield
Alex SobelLeeds North West
Gareth ThomasHarrow West

House of Lords

There are sixteen Labour and Co-operative peers in the House of Lords:[23]

Lord McFall of Alcluith currently sits as a non-affiliated peer following his election as Lord Speaker in May 2021.


There are sixteen Labour and Co-operative Members of the Senedd:[24]

MSConstituency or Region
Mick AntoniwPontypridd
Dawn BowdenMerthyr Tydfil and Rhymney
Alun DaviesBlaenau Gwent
Rebecca EvansGower
Vaughan GethingCardiff South and Penarth
John GriffithsNewport East
Mike HedgesSwansea East
Vikki HowellsCynon Valley
Huw Irranca-DaviesOgmore
Jeremy MilesNeath
Sarah MurphyBridgend
Lynne NeagleTorfaen
Rhianon PassmoreIslwyn
Carolyn ThomasNorth Wales
Lee WatersLlanelli
Joyce WatsonMid and West Wales

Scottish Parliament

There are eleven Labour and Co-operative Members of the Scottish Parliament:[25]

MSPConstituency or Region
Claire BakerMid Scotland and Fife
Neil BibbyWest Scotland
Sarah BoyackLothian
Rhoda GrantHighlands and Islands
Daniel JohnsonEdinburgh Southern
Monica LennonCentral Scotland
Pauline McNeillGlasgow
Paul O'KaneWest Scotland
Anas SarwarGlasgow
Colin SmythSouth Scotland
Paul SweeneyGlasgow

London Assembly

There are eleven Labour and Co-operative Members of the London Assembly:[26]

AMConstituency or Region
Marina AhmadLambeth and Southwark
Elly BakerLondon-wide
Anne ClarkeBarnet and Camden
Leonie CooperMerton and Wandsworth
Unmesh DesaiCity and East
Len DuvallGreenwich and Lewisham
Krupesh HiraniBrent and Harrow
Joanne McCartneyEnfield and Haringey
Sem MoemaNorth East
Onkar SahotaEaling and Hillingdon
Sakina SheikhLondon-wide

Police and Crime Commissioners

There are seven Labour and Co-operative Police and Crime Commissioners:[27]

CommissionerPolice Area
Joy AllenDurham
Alan BillingsSouth Yorkshire
Jeffrey CuthbertGwent
Andrew DunbobbinNorth Wales
Kim McGuinnessNorthumbria
Alun MichaelSouth Wales
Emily SpurrellMerseyside

Directly Elected Mayors

There are five directly elected Labour and Co-operative metro mayors:[28]

MayorMayoral Area
Tracy BrabinWest Yorkshire
Andy BurnhamGreater Manchester
Jamie DriscollNorth of Tyne
Dan JarvisSheffield City Region
Nik JohnsonCambridgeshire and Peterborough

There are four directly elected Labour and Co-operative local authority mayors:

MayorMayoral Area
Damien EganLewisham
Rokhsana FiazNewham
Philip GlanvilleHackney
John BiggsTower Hamlets

Local government

The Co-operative Party is represented in all tiers of local government by local councillors who stand as Labour and Co-operative. There are 938 Labour and Co-operative Councillors across England, Scotland and Wales.[29] In London, there are 271 Labour and Co-operative councillors and Greenwich has the highest number in the capital with 39 councillors.[30]

Northern Ireland Assembly

The Co-operative party is affiliated with the Labour Party in Northern Ireland. Labour and SDLP members are permitted to join the party,[31] but it does not currently have any representation in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

See also


  1. "About the Co-operative Party". Co-operative Party.
  2. "Building A Fairer Future – The Co-operative Plan for Britain 2019". Co-operative Party.
  3. "Co-Op Party chair quits over indy support".
  4. "Policy paper: Britain's relationship with the European Union". Co-operative Party.
  5. "About the Party". Co-operative Party.
  6. "National Agreement between the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party (2003)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 January 2018. Retrieved 19 January 2018.
  7. "Overview of donations and loans reported in 2013". Donations and loans to political parties. The Electoral Commission.
  8. James C. Docherty; Peter Lamb (2006). Historical Dictionary of Socialism. Scarecrow Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-8108-6477-1.
  9. Arthur Birnie (2013). An Economic History of the British Isles. Routledge. p. 367. ISBN 978-1-136-58979-9.
  10. David Marsh (2013). The Changing Social Structure of England and Wales. Taylor & Francis. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-136-24163-5.
  11. Simon Hall (1999). The Hutchinson Illustrated Encyclopedia of British History. Taylor & Francis. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-57958-107-7.
  12. Rosen, Greg (2007). "Serving the People: Co-operative Party History from Fred Perry to Gordon Brown". Co-operative Party. ISBN 978-0-9549161-4-5. Archived from the original on 11 November 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2016.
  13. "Co-operative Party Board Report and Annual Accounts 2017".
  14. "Rules of Co-operative Party Limited" (PDF). Co-operative Party. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  15. "Co-operative Party Rule Book Section C: Annual Conference" (PDF). Co-operative Party. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  16. "2019 Motion Results". The Co-operative Group. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  17. "Co-operative Party Annual Report 2016". Co-operative Party. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  18. "Paddy Lillis addresses the Co-op Party conference". Usdaw. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  19. "Co-operative Party Rule Book Section N: Rules for a Society Party" (PDF). Co-operative Party. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  20. "Local Co-operative Parties". Co-operative Party. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  21. "Local Government Factsheet". Co-operative Party. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  22. Fortune, Joe (16 August 2020). "Remembering Chris Herries, 1947-2020". Co-operative Party. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  23. "Members of the House of Lords". Co-operative Party.
  24. "Members of the Welsh Parliament". Co-operative Party.
  25. "Members of the Scottish Parliament". Co-operative Party.
  26. "Members of the London Assembly". Co-operative Party.
  27. "Police and Crime Commissioners". Co-operative Party.
  28. "Metro Mayors". Co-operative Party.
  29. "Election Results 2021". Co-operative Party.
  30. "Record number of Co-operative Councillors elected". The Co-operative Party. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  31. "Northern Ireland". Co-operative Party.

Further reading

  • Consumers in politics, a history and general review of the Co-operative Party (1969), Thomas F. Carbery, Manchester U.P.
  • Serving the People: Co-operative Party History from Fred Perry to Gordon Brown. (2007), Greg Rosen, London: Co-operative Party. ISBN 978-09549161-4-5.