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.
|General Secretary||Joe Fortune|
|Founded||17 October 1917|
|Headquarters||83 Crampton Street|
London SE17 3BQ
|Youth wing||Co-operative Party Youth|
|Political position||Centre-left to left-wing|
|National affiliation||Labour and Co-operative|
|House of Commons|
26 / 650
|House of Lords|
13 / 772
8 / 129
|Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament|
11 / 60
1,500 / 20,565
7 / 25
|Police & Crime Commissioners|
3 / 41
|Directly elected mayors|
6 / 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. The Co-operative Party is a legally separate entity from the Labour Party, and is registered as a political party with the Electoral Commission. 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 arguably the fourth-largest party in the House of Commons with 26 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 Chris Herries serves as Chair of the National Executive Committee, Joe Fortune as General Secretary, and Jim McMahon as Chair of the Co-operative Party Group of Parliamentarians.
The Co-operative Party was formed in 1917 after being approved by the May Congress of the British co-operative movement held in Swansea. Since an electoral pact established in 1927, the party has stood joint candidates with the Labour Party. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2016 Community became the first trade union to affiliate to the Co-operative Party, followed in 2018 by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw).
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).
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.
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. Instead both parties agree joint candidates to stand as Labour and Co-operative Party.
With the exception of elections to the European Parliament, 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.
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.
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 Chris Herries as Chair of the National Executive Committee, Jim McMahon 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
- 1918–1924 William Henry Watkins
- 1924–1945 Alfred Barnes MP
- 1945–1955 William Coldrick MP
- 1955–1957 Albert Ballard
- 1957–1965 James Peddie
- 1965–1972 Herbert Kemp CSD, JP
- 1972–1978 John Parkinson
- 1978–1982 Tom Turvey JP
- 1982–1989 Brian Hellowell
- 1989–1995 Jessie Carnegie
- 1995–1996 Peter Nurse
- 1996–2001 Jim Lee
- 2001–2019 Gareth Thomas MP
- 2019–2019 Anna Turley MP (June–December)
- 2019–present Chris Herries
General Secretaries of the Co-operative Party
- 1917–1942 Samuel Perry
- 1942–1962 Jack Bailey
- 1962–1967 Harold Campbell
- 1967–1974 Ted Graham
- 1974–1992 David Wise
- 1992–1998 Peter Clarke
- 1998–2008 Peter Hunt
- 2008–2012 Michael Stephenson
- 2012–2015 Karin Christiansen
- 2015–2019 Claire McCarthy
- 2019–present Joe Fortune
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.
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House of Commons
- Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South)
- Tracy Brabin (Batley and Spen)
- Stella Creasy (Walthamstow)
- Geraint Davies (Swansea West)
- Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East)
- Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth)
- Florence Eshalomi (Vauxhall)
- Chris Evans (Islwyn)
- Preet Gill (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
- Mark Hendrick (Preston)
- Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch)
- Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston)
- Rachael Maskell (York Central)
- Jim McMahon (Oldham West and Royton)
- James Murray (Ealing North)
- Alex Norris (Nottingham North)
- Kate Osamor (Edmonton)
- Luke Pollard (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport)
- Lucy Powell (Manchester Central)
- Steve Reed (Croydon North)
- Christina Rees (Neath)
- Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde)
- Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown)
- Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
- Alex Sobel (Leeds North West)
- Gareth Thomas (Harrow West)
House of Lords
Senedd Cymru - Welsh Parliament
There are eleven Labour and Co-operative MSs in the Senedd:
- Mick Antoniw (MS for Pontypridd)
- Alun Davies (MS for Blaenau Gwent)
- Rebecca Evans (MS for Mid and West Wales)
- Vaughan Gething (MS for Cardiff South and Penarth)
- John Griffiths (MS for Newport East)
- Huw Irranca-Davies (MS for Ogmore)
- Ann Jones (MS for Vale of Clwyd)
- Jeremy Miles (MS for Neath)
- Lynne Neagle (MS for Torfaen)
- Rhianon Passmore (MS for Islwyn)
- Lee Waters (MS for Llanelli)
There are six Labour and Co-operative MSPs in the Scottish Parliament:
- Claudia Beamish (MSP for South of Scotland)
- Neil Bibby (MSP for West of Scotland)
- Rhoda Grant (MSP for Highlands and Islands)
- James Kelly (MSP for Glasgow)
- Johann Lamont (MSP for Glasgow)
- David Stewart (MSP for Highlands and Islands)
There are seven Labour and Co-operative AMs in the London Assembly:
- Jennette Arnold (AM for North East London)
- Leonie Cooper (AM for Merton and Wandsworth)
- Andrew Dismore (AM for Barnet and Camden)
- Len Duvall (AM for Greenwich and Lewisham)
- Florence Eshalomi (AM for Lambeth and Southwark)
- Nicky Gavron (London-wide AM)
- Joanne McCartney (AM for Enfield and Haringey)
Police and Crime Commissioners
There are three Labour and Co-operative police and crime commissioners:
There are three directly elected Labour and Co-operative mayors:
There are three directly elected Labour and Co-operative metro mayors:
The Co-operative Party is represented in all tiers of local government by local councillors who stand as Labour and Co-operative. There are over 700 Labour and Co-operative Councillors across England, Scotland and Wales. In London, there are 271 Labour and Co-operative councillors and Greenwich has the highest number in the capital with 39 councillors.
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, but it does not currently have any representation in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
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- Consumers in politics, a history and general review of the Co-operative Party (1969), Thomas F. Carbery, Manchester U.P.