Speech by Gareth Thomas MP to Labour Party Conference in Liverpool

Video and full text of Co-operative Party Chair Gareth Thomas MPs' fraternal greetings speech to Labour Party 2016 Annual Conference in Liverpool

Co-operative Party


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Conference, I am proud to bring you fraternal greetings from the Co-operative Party.  For the last 90 years we have worked together to build a fairer Britain – one where power and wealth are more equally shared.  Since we signed our electoral agreement in 1927 we have been together through thick and thin. When the Co-operative Party and the co-operative movement have faced challenging times you have been there standing in solidarity with us.  Today, we stand in solidarity with you – ready to work with you to fight for our shared values and our vision of a better and fairer society.

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate Jeremy on his re-election and to thank Tom Watson and many of you for your support for our Keep it Co-op campaign earlier this year.

Conference, two years ago I told you about the inspiring work of the world’s biggest credit union – a financial co-operative called Navy Federal which offers some of the best financial services available in the US to the American armed forces; Navy Seals to Army cooks or veterans and their families. I asked why British service personnel didn’t get the same support, and instead were preyed upon by payday lenders offering interest rates of 3000% or more to young soldiers and their families just as they went into harm’s way for us.

The Co-op Party began, with the strong support of your MPs and Peers, a concerted campaign to force the Tories to take an interest, and so, finally, in October last year three credit unions with official backing from the MOD began offering responsible and affordable financial services to the brave men and women who make up our armed forces and their families. Just one of those credit unions recently announced that in just the first few months they have made over £300,000 of affordable loans to service personnel.

That’s vulnerable young men and women, families, veterans no longer being forced into the hands of legal loan sharks. That is the co-operative difference.

The co-operative movement was formed and has grown over the last two centuries to provide a real alternative to the broken markets and vested interests which work against the interests of ordinary working people.

Never has there been a more glaring example of the need for such an alternative as in some of the social care provision we see today.  15 minute visits, a low paid and exploited workforce and faceless private companies profiteering from the needs of older and disabled people. And so, at our conference two weeks ago the Co-operative Party published ‘Taking Care’ our radical alternative vision to the existing social care market. We need an ownership revolution in the social care sector in England.

We have long supported the election of employees on to company boards.  Now Theresa May says she wants to support this. Private sector social care providers would be the perfect place to start.

That is why the Co-operative Party are calling for a ‘Right to Run’ with carers, care recipients and their families having a guaranteed right to representation on the company boards of private sector care providers. Those who provide and rely on social care services have the knowledge and vested interest necessary to deliver good quality, cost effective care.

The best way to align those interests and that knowledge is through the mutual ownership of care services, with care providers that are owned and run by care recipients and their families, care workers and the wider community.

The Coalition Government wanted to mutualise public sector services. We say it’s time to mutualise the private sector in social care.

We meet at a time of unprecedented uncertainty for our Country’s future. The vote to leave the European Union, less than three months ago, based on what have been revealed as false promises of extra money for the NHS, has exacerbated the sense of doubt about Britain’s economic and social future. Will the worker’s rights that European rules locked into UK law now be undermined by the Tory Right? Will jobs that depend on trade with Europe now begin to disappear overseas?

As internationalist parties, this was a vote few of us wanted – it’s not by any means in the best interests of our country, our wider community of allies, nor is it in the interests of our movement.

We in the Co-op Party will campaign for full access to the Single Market, an exercise in international co-operation that’s good for British jobs and co-op businesses. ‘Take back Control’ was Vote Leave’s big rallying cry, but for many voters, Westminster can feel just as distant and unaccountable as Brussels. Together, we need to advance afresh the cause of redistributing both economic, social and state power away from Westminster. Down to cities and regions yes, but even more so to communities, groups of citizens and employees, to help them work together to better shape and control their own futures.

There’s been quite a bit of interest in the Co-op Party this summer. We’ve made it into the Sunday Times, onto the BBC, the Guardian and the Independent.

I’m still trying to get to the bottom of why.

Perhaps it’s because it’s our Centenary next year. Or perhaps it’s because of our plan to force companies to share a little of their profits.

Or perhaps because some people  think they can use the Co-operative Party to further their own agenda. One of the great strengths of co-operation is that it transcends traditional political groupings.

There are great proponents of the co-operative ideal across the Labour family and beyond.

And so we say to you – our brothers and sisters in the Labour family – if you share our co-operative values and principles please join us in our task of creating a more co-operative Britain. If you want to use our Party for other ends then you should think again because the Co-operative Party’s NEC have been clear that we will not tolerate entryism of any form. From any group.

Next year, is the Co-operative Party’s centenary year. It will be a chance to celebrate our proud history. But above all it must be a moment to look forward.

We have had a rich, recent history:

  • Legislated to make it easier to set up and expand a co-operative business
  • We’ve supported the rapid growth of credit unions
  • Enable the creation of hundreds of co-op schools
  • Backed Football supporters trusts – putting fans back at the heart of the beautiful game
  • Championed a new generation of Energy co-ops – and then defended them from attack from a Government whose greenwash have very clearly washed off
  • And rallied thousands of people behind our campaign for a People’s BBC

And the reforms in banking, housing, tax and land ownership we have made the case for.

But we also know that it is the future that really matters. So you will be seeing and hearing more from the Co-operative Party. More about our vision for building a co-operative economy that serves the interests of ordinary working people and rewards them with a fairer share of the growth they help to create; More about how the new Metro Mayors and Combined Authorities can help drive sustainable local growth; More about how we build an education system in England which is based on the values of collaboration not competition; More about our vision of an alternative to the current housing market which fails a growing number of families – drawing on the brilliant work of Carwyn’s Welsh Labour & Co-operative Government which is supporting the development of a new generation of housing co-operatives

We have a growing network of Co-op Councillors.  We know that our co-operative values can play a bigger role in meeting many of the challenges that many local authorities are grappling with.  And so we are putting new resources into developing our Cllrs network so that the great work that is already going on from Edinburgh to Plymouth to Oldham – can we spread more widely.

So – if you agree that co-operatives are a better way of doing business; if you believe in the power of people to come together to challenge vested interests and take control based on their shared interests; if you want to see public services like the railways, the utility companies and social care run in the interests of people not profit – with employees and consumers at their heart – then join us.

Join us to celebrate 100 years of achievement but also to make the next century in Britain a co-operative century.