Co-operative Party NEC member Alex Baker spoke on co-operation and the Co-operative Councils initiative at last week’s Labour Conference in Liverpool. Watch her speech and read it in full below.

Alex Baker representing Vauxhall CLP.

The morning after the South London riots, I felt the need to head just down the road to Clapham Junction to help with the clear-up. At first there was just a handful of us like-minded ‘riot cleaners’, identifiable with our brooms and bin bags – but every hour the numbers of cleaners grew.

For the first three hours Tory led Wandsworth Council tried to get rid of us. But we were going nowhere.

The prospect of a visit by a very suntanned Boris Johnson forced them to relent. Finally, after 6 hours, I got my opportunity to counteract the negatives of the night before.

By being there we were proving that the real Big Society isn’t some product of the Tory manifesto but the instinctive and emotional reaction of people who care about their community.

Conference, I am proud to call myself a co-operator. What I learnt from the riot clean-up was that I was not alone – there are lots of ‘co-operators’ out there – they just don’t call themselves such.

For me, Labour has to take the challenge to find ways to help those people to embrace their ‘inner co-operator’. To translate people’s reaction to the riots into helping them to get involved in decisions to shape their community going forward.

We may not be in Downing Street but we are in power in Town Halls up and down the UK. This is why it is great to see an ever growing group of Labour Councils, using that power to embrace co-operative values, coming up with new and innovative ways to work in partnership with their local communities as part of the Co-operative Council’s Network.

I believe that co-operative values have so much to offer as we look to build strong and sustainable local communities.

We are already seeing examples of how the co-operative approach is working across the UK, whether in community youth services in my local community in Lambeth, mutual housing in Rochdale or in social care co-ops in Sunderland.

The strength of the co-operative approach is that there is no one size fits all model – it is about using the co-operative solutions that work for your community.

Co-op councils give us very genuine opportunities to hand power back to our neighbours.

The Tories have tried to claim the co-operative movement for their own. They set up the Conservative Co-operative Movement – yet to have an AGM. They keep talking about how they love co-operatives.  But conference it is all hot air.

What the Tories don’t realise is that the relationship between the Labour and Co-operative movements is deep-rooted and strong. Our movements have worked together for over ninety years. This is a coalition that will last longer than the next five years.

Conference, our movements were started by pioneers. We should be proud of the pioneering work of Labour councils that have been taking this journey and we should support more Labour Groups to do the same. Most importantly we need to take this opportunity to show David Cameron what we really mean when we say that the feeling’s mutual.