Labour is in power locally across the country. Our actions here provide the kernel of a new, cooperative Labour way of governing, writes Anna Turley

Local government has a crucial role to play in the rebuilding of the Labour party. Renewing the party cannot be done through internal debate alone or through the prism of the media. It is in local government, where we are actually in power across the country, that we can demonstrate our values through action, and show we have fresh ideas for the future.

Here Labour can choose to be defined by the decisions we make, the communities we build, the way we support and empower people and the way we spend money (what little there is). And it is cooperative approaches to local services that are really taking hold across town halls, as we seek to reconnect with our local communities and redefine the relationship between the state and the citizen.

There is already plenty of exciting and innovative work happening in Labour local authorities. Councils like Hackney are demonstrating that Labour can demand efficiency without the Tory approach to slashing services. Newham is setting out a new responsibility agenda and tackling dependency. Islington is embedding Labour values through its recent Fairness Commission, which has inspired a similar approach in Liverpool and York.

Yet it is cooperative approaches that are inspiring many Labour councils around the country, as they seek new ways to give citizens more control over the services they receive without leaving them to sink or swim as the ‘big society’ approach threatens. Many councils are looking at new, hyper-localised forms of mutual and cooperative organisations to work close to local people in shaping and delivering services.

Lambeth council has led the way in this approach by launching a number of pilots in key public services. One example is establishing cooperative housing as a means of helping people on low incomes to meet their aspiration to own. They are also looking at micro-mutuals of personalised budget holders to improve care services for older and disabled people. They are planning community-run children’s centres, neighbourhood micro-plans, community-led clean-up operations, and a cooperative model for mental health care that brings together users, carers and professionals.

But this is part of a wider movement across local government to embed cooperative principles throughout local public services. In July a new network of co-operative councils will be launched by the Co-operative Party, Lambeth council and the LGA Labour group, with a number of leading Labour authorities, such as Oldham, Rochdale, Liverpool, Lewisham, Newcastle, Kirklees, Stevenage, and Telford and Wrekin on board.

At the heart of this movement is a necessary debate for the party itself about Labour’s view of the state and its relationship to the public. The Tories’ narrative has sought to define Labour as supporting bloated government, stifling communities and creating dependency. It is clear from the debates around blue Labour and the enthusiasm for a cooperative agenda that this is being well resisted.

Cooperative councils are providing the opportunity for Labour to reclaim our values at local level, give communities greater control over their own lives, and, crucially, to ensure the state works with them in supporting them to transform their lives.

Anna Turley is editor of
This article first appeared on Progress Online at