Never mind Cameron’s ‘people power’ rhetoric – Labour has a track record of being true to the spirit of the Co-operative Party, writes Michael Stephenson

For the Co-operative Party, having the Tories competing with Labour to give more power to ordinary people through mutuals and co-operatives might seem a good thing. Except that Conservative “people power” rhetoric belies an ersatz reality. In contrast, Labour’s manifesto is peppered with dozens of examples of real mutuality – the idea that ordinary people can and should have a say in how the services and institutions that affect their lives are run.

Labour may not have always been loud enough in its promotion of these ideas or the policies they have introduced to put them into effect – such as giving more than 1.5 million patients and staff a say in how hospitals are run through NHS Foundation Trusts – but mutuality stormed into this election campaign with a vengeance yesterday in Birmingham.

In Labour’s manifesto there are more than 20 specific examples of how power can be given back to people. These are real and practical ways in which the state takes a back seat to the people in how resources are distributed and how services are provided. And they are all ideas rooted in the manifesto of that great, long-standing friend of Labour – having worked in an electoral pact since 1927 – the Co-operative Party.

So yesterday Gordon Brown announced plans for not only the re-mutualisation of Northern Rock (as against the Tory plan for a quick-buck share-sale at taxpayers’ expense), but also more co-operative trust schools, mutual Sure Start centres, mutual housing, co-operative schemes for cheap green energy and a clear commitment to making every hospital a Foundation Trust with direct community involvement.

Labour’s manifesto is about giving all of us the power to run our own lives through co-operation, through working together. It’s about giving more control of public services back to users – not only schools and hospitals, but canals and rivers through the mutualisation of British Waterways, and the power for passengers to get themselves a better train service through government support for mutually run trains. It’s also about giving us all more power over our cultural institutions like English Heritage, the BBC, football clubs, and, if local people want to do it, the power to run local leisure services and even the village pub.

This is not some recent conversion to a new way of thinking. It is the latest step in a process of diverting power away from the centre that Labour began almost a decade ago.

Mutuality has always been part of Labour’s policy programme because it understands the co-operative approach and realises that in a post credit crunch world people are re-examining the values that underlie our economy and our society. They also know that only progressive political parties truly understand the values of co-operation and mutuality and no amount of shallow posturing from David Cameron can steal mutuality away from its traditional home on the left of the political spectrum.

This article first appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free