This year, as I join with my Co-operative Party colleagues for our Annual Conference in Edinburgh, I think we can truly say that there has never been a time when the co-operative and mutual ideal has been more important.

A number of our largest banks have been found wanting, at a great cost to us all. Public confidence in the parliamentary process has been damaged. There is a feeling across the public and the private sector that large organisations that affect our lives are not being run in our interests.

In government, Labour has made great strides toward social justice but the challenge for a fourth term is even greater.  It is about building organisations with values, accountable to those with a stake in their success, and where long-term social returns are put ahead of short-term private gain.

Co-operatives and mutuals, unlike other forms of business, exist to provide mutual self-help for members rather than to generate profits for investors. These core values drive high standards of behaviour through the sector and allow them to take a long-term view of their members’ interests. As we collectively count the costs of short-term thinking by business, a strong and vibrant mutual sector must undoubtedly play a significant role in the new economy.

Yet, for the foreseeable future, it is likely that most significant enterprises will continue to be owned by shareholders. Building a private sector more in tune with co-operative values is necessary if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Through reconnecting our firms with their stakeholders and society we can transform the nature of business in this country – building an economy that acts in all of our interests.

Perhaps the most important thing the financial crisis has taught us is that, in the modern world, no country is able to solve all of its problems on its own.  As we face the greatest challenge to the world economy in modern times, the looming catastrophe of climate change and the continued emergency of global poverty; co-operation between nations has never been more important.

We also need to find new ways to rebuild faith in our political system and democratic. While our representative democratic institutions were designed for the supervision of small-scale government in a self-regulating society, the world we live in now is very different. If we are to rebuild our political system and our economy, we will need to take people with us.

This requires us to find new ways to increase participation and devolve power within our society. Participatory budgeting and new forms of e-participation can play a significant role in this regard. Government also needs to do much more to deliver power and ownership of public services to the communities that depend on them. Local communities must be given the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives through partnerships with government.

From foundation trust hospitals to co-operative trust schools, we are already seeing the benefits that new mutual organisations are bringing to public services. These can provide the efficiency gains of the private sector whilst providing real democratic accountability, giving users, employees and other stakeholders a real say in how their organisations are run. If we are serious about creating a new politics, then giving ordinary people real power over the services that they rely on is the best way to do it.

We also need a new 21st century collectivism. Whether it’s a question of people saving their football club, their local post office or even the planet, co-operative and mutual organisations can provide a means through which people can collectively meet their aspirations and help change behaviour for the better.

For over ninety years, the Co-operative Party has stood for giving economic and political power to everyone in our society. Co-operative values and principles are truly an idea whose time has come back. The time for action is now.

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