I have been inundated with messages in recent days from people telling me how pleased they were to see a Co-operative Party membership application form included in their Labour leadership ballot papers.

It is good that 180,000 Labour Party members now know who we are, understand that we are the sister party of Labour and will join us in large numbers, but as we begin our Annual Conference in Cardiff this week, there is a bigger challenge for the Co-operative Party.

We have always been part of the left but until the credit crunch we have struggled to link our ideas and our message to a tangible event or opportunity that perfectly illustrates the need for co-operation and mutuality to be considered a serious economic and social model. 

As a party we have always had a vast reservoir of ideas but lacked the ability to communicate them in a compelling way that linked the social justice aims of the left with the aspirational emphasis of New Labour.

In the last two years we have made that case much more successfully, whether it be through our “Feeling’s Mutual” campaign to return the failed banks to the mutual sector, our innovative policies on housing and energy or our plans to run public services as mutual organisations, run by and for local people as a community asset.

However, the result of the general election on May 6th made our job harder.  The cynical and hollow adoption of our agenda by the Tories and Liberal Democrats has meant that we must reclaim not just our legitimate and central position in the labour movement but re-assert our primacy as the only genuine political force for co-operation and mutuality.

What we must not do is fall into the trap of simply opposing co-operative policies introduced by the coalition for oppositions sake or resorting to a simplistic message on cuts.

We will look churlish and insubstantial unless we are discriminating in our message and consistent in our logic.

That means accepting ConDem initiatives that are genuinely Co-operative in nature but fiercely opposing those that are not in the spirit or intent of our values and ideals.

It also means that as Labour rebuilds and re-considers its position we are there to offer the ideas that don’t take us back to the overtly statist approach of the Labour Party of old nor embrace too easily the Thatcherite view that the private sector can deliver services more effectively.

Co-operation and mutuality are ideas perfectly suited to the challenges facing Labour today.  Ours is an idea whose time has come back and it is no coincidence that the contenders for the Labour Party leadership have enthusiastically and publicly adopted a great many of the Co-operative Party’s policies.

Beyond Westminster, our Co-operative Councils initiative is showing a new way forward for local authorities and rejects the simple cuts agenda of the Tories and LibDems.

And in Wales and Scotland we have developed comprehensive manifestos to campaign on in the elections in 2011.

The result of the general election on May 6th was not game over.  For the Co-operative Party it was an opportunity to re-offer a set of ideas that have always been an important part of what Labour stands for, not just in Westminster but at every level of government.

This article first appeared on LabourList