Cambridge Universities Labour Club member Ashley Walsh writes on CULC’s work to become the first Labour Club affiliate to the Co-operative Party.

When I was elected Chair of Cambridge Universities Labour Club (CULC) in May 2010, I am proud to say that one of my first tasks was to carry through our members’ motion to make CULC the UK’s first student Labour and Co-operative Club.  After the result of the general election, the prospect to begin to carve out so new a direction for Labour students was extremely exciting. For the small cost of a constitutional amendment and a nominal fee, CULC was able to create a massive opportunity for itself.

And why shouldn’t student Labour clubs foster closer links with the Co-operative Party? Both parties enjoy a historically connected story, acting as the political arm of their related movements. Twenty-nine Labour MPs – including those as important as Ed Balls – are also Co-operative MPs, not to mention the several Labour and Co-operative councillors we in Cambridge had campaigned to elect. Both Labour students, and students generally, share the aims of the movement: mutual responsibility, stake holding, internationalism, empowering local communities; the list goes on. In short, the time has truly come for stronger links between our movements in the universities.

The Co-operative Party can also enhance hugely the quality of a student Labour club. I suspect one reason that affiliation was so popular among our members was the excellent event held for us by the Co-op’s General Secretary, Michael Stephenson. The party has the resources to improve student events, to diversify and strengthen our issue-based campaigns, and to invest in expanding our memberships at freshers’ fairs and beyond. On a more selfish note, all those Labour and Co-operative MPs would be infinitely more likely to visit a Labour club which can proudly share their political label!

The role which Labour clubs nationwide play in student unions can also be strengthened by affiliation.  As we support candidates in university-wide elections, the values of the Co-operative Movement can add depth and passion to a manifesto. Such policies as rebalancing union finances to distribute trading surpluses onto university workers, university credit unions to help support low-income students, providing a mutualised framework to student enterprise schemes; all these show how the shared values of Labour students and the Co-operative Movement can support our shared aims on university campuses. The opportunity is so large that the party has long since begun its own joint strategy with the NUS: Labour Clubs would do well to keep ahead of this trend.

For CULC specifically, we have been able to develop the ways in which we fight for our students, low-paid workers, and the causes of the labour movement. Having already passed a motion to support the re-mutualisation of Northern Rock, we are in the process of planning with the party’s national officers how we will lobby George Osborne to consider the move. Our campaign to provide the Living Wage for university workers has been supported by the values of the movement and, fortuitously, is also now being developed by planned future work with the Movement for Change. The party’s literature on using collective purchasing power to prevent climate change has also proved valuable as we communicate with students how we protect the environment.

At the same time as the coalition government pursues policies which threaten the cohesion of our communities and which may take economic power away from the people, the Conservatives feign to be the friends and allies of co-operation. Yet it is commonly agreed by our movement that this is an account designed to distract attention from the truly neo-liberal direction they are taking. Not since the 1980s, then, have the values of the Co-operative Party, and its familial link with the Labour Party, been so needed. Excitingly, Labour Clubs up and down the country can play a role in this political fight back, one which they have never played before: by affiliating with the party we are able to advance the interests of working people in both co-operative and socialist directions, create fairer and more equitable universities, and produce the next generation of co-operative thinkers and activists. The opportunity is there; it is up to Labour students to seize it for the first time ever.

Ashley first posted this on his blog at