We’re in the middle of this year’s “Cooperative Fortnight“, an annual celebration of all things cooperative. But what does it mean to be a Labour + Cooperative councillor?
When you stand for election as a local councillor you can do so either as a member of a political party, or as an independent. Belonging to a party means being part of something larger than just yourself, which has both its up and down sides. There’s the sense of being on a journey together, being part of a shared project. There’s also the potential for disagreement on certain issues, or personalities that might clash. But who knew it was possible to be part of two political groups at the same time?!
The Labour movement and the Cooperative movement both emerged out of the tremendous positive political energy that was around in the 19th century. Working Class people had a raw deal: poorly paid, living in shocking conditions and having very few rights, either in the workplace or in terms of having a say in the way their communities and country was run. A wealthy elite ran the show and the masses were literally second class citizens. People wanted more control over their lives and a greater share of the gains from the hard work they did every day.
Forming political parties and putting forward candidates for election was an important step to achieving change. In the early part of the twentieth century the two parties realised that they had so much in common that it was counterproductive to both put up candidates for election in the same areas – all that did was split the vote. In 1927 an electoral alliance was agreed that has stood for almost 100 years. Right now there are 26 “Labour & Cooperative” MPs sitting in the British Parliament. Hundreds more sit as local councillors all around the country.
The main reason I wear the two hats, being “Labour Co-Op” and not just “Labour” is that I’m a real fan of the Cooperative approach to economic development. At the heart of the Co-Op model is people having a stake in the ownership of the businesses that are an important part of their lives. This might be as a worker, or as a customer. What it means in practice is that the people involved in the enterprise have a much more engaged relationship with it. Crucially it also means that if the business has a good year and makes a profit all the ‘members’ get a share of that benefit, a form of dividend.
Studies show that when businesses function as a shared enterprise, people are more motivated, more committed and want to do their best. It’s a very different situation to working for a company that has a headquarters in another country, or a nationalised industry that is run by the government.