Apples and Activists – Keeping it Co-op

This Saturday there will be a vote which decides the entire future of the Cooperative Party. An election which has been mired in controversy and anger over the way it has been run. If we don’t get our vote out then we could lose our sister party and lose a major voice for the Cooperative Movement. We’re already heartbroken over losing the General Election; I couldn’t stand it if we lost on Saturday.  Please vote YES to 9 and 10

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Over the last few weeks I have heard many people talk about the Cooperative Group’s values and principles. They talk of these values as something special, something worth fighting for and something that has been passed down to us. These are the things that make the Cooperative so much more than just a shop, more than just another ASDA or Tesco on the high street; things that make it part of a movement. There are groups of people who shop, insure and bank with the Cooperative because they believe in these values and find them more and more attractive.

However recently there has been an attempt to break away from these values and away from the wider Cooperative Movement. Claims are being made that the Cooperative Group needs to change or it will sink. Allan Leighton the chair of the Cooperative Group has stated that “It’s the apples, not the activists, which will transform the coop.”

As part of the attempt to break away from the Cooperative Movement, the Cooperative Group has put its century long connection with the Cooperative Party up for grabs.

Often an unknown and misunderstood organisation, for 98 years the Cooperative Party has existed to promote Cooperative Values and Principles in Parliament and ensure that Co-operators get elected and that the wider cooperative movement has a voice in politics and policy.

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In 1917 one hundred and seven independent co-operative businesses voted to establish the Co-op Party, because they recognised that the changes they wanted to see and their vision of a better, more equal society wouldn’t happen without political action.

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Alfred Waterson – First Cooperative MP

There were immediate results of this action with the first Cooperative MP Alfred Waterson being elected in 1918. Although elected solely as a Cooperative Party MP, Waterson chose to accept the Labour Party whip, I suspect in part because in the British Electoral System the only way to have any impact is to work with a larger party. It wasn’t until 1927 however, that there was an official recognition of this rather canny decision and unique relationship and a decision to stand joint candidates. This has been a successful electoral relationship for the Cooperative Party with them currently being the 4th largest political party in the House of Commons (24 MPs).

The electoral pact has led many people to confuse the two parties or assume that the Cooperative Party is just another wing of the Labour Party, another Fabian Society or Progress. This assumption is completely false, although the Cooperative stands joint candidates with the Labour Party, in all other ways they are an individual Party with their own membership, staff, national executive committee (NEC) and policy platform, all of which are independent of Labour’s.

If there has been a piece of legislation which has benefited consumers you can safely bet that there was a Cooperative Party MP at the heart of it. If there has been a change in the law which has improved the situation for Cooperatives and Mutuals you can presume that there is a Coop Party MP there and if there is legislation around protecting the environment and encouraging renewables again it is more likely than not that there is a Coop MP there.
The Cooperative Party has used the last 98 years well; growing, evolving and becoming a major voice in the political landscape. It may actually be the Party which is the best value for money for donors.

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Since 1917 the majority of British retail cooperatives have been absorbed and combined into the Co-operative Group. The Cooperative group has become a major beneficiary of 150 years of British Cooperation and the investment of time, money and passionate commitment by Cooperators, including politicians, much of which has taken place in the last 100 years.

As the main beneficiary of our long and glorious history, and as Britain’s largest cooperative, it must be asked if the Coop Group have a duty towards the wider cooperative movement or are they solely responsible to its current members?

How much of the development that they profit from can be put down to the influence of the Cooperative Party?

Are we just shoppers or are we pioneers of another way of doing politics?

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Please vote to Keep it Coop. Ballots close on the 13th.

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