One hundred years ago today the newspapers were reporting the appointment of the first Co-operative minister in the United Kingdom.  A V Alexander was appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in the first ever Labour Government.

The establishment of the modern co-operative movement in Britain in the nineteenth century had led many co-operators on the path to involvement in politics.

At first the movement proclaimed its political neutrality, (it also refused to sell alcohol at first!).  By 1880 the Co-operative Union, the representative body for co-operatives, had set up a Parliamentary Committee.  This committee looked at business in parliament and raised issues on behalf of co-ops.  They were mostly helped by Liberal MPs at this time.  Over time it became clear that this was not sufficient for the co-op movement.

The First World War led the co-operative movement in Britain to join party politics.  Many co-operative societies felt that they were not being treated fairly by the government.  Many felt that their staff were more likely to be conscripted than their non-co-operative competitors.  The co-operative societies tried to raise this with Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, he was too busy to meet them and the Prime Minister met with the Jockey Club instead.

This led in 1917 to a majority of co-operative societies voting to set up the Co-operative Party.

Our first MP, Alfred Waterson, was elected in 1918.  By the time of the election in December 1923 six Co-op Party MPs were elected; A V Alexander in Sheffield Hillsborough; Alf Barnes in East Ham South; Tom Henderson in Glasgow Tradeston; R C Morrison in Tottenham North; Sam Perry in Kettering and Andrew Young in Glasgow Partick.

Sadly, no women were elected as Co-op MPs in that election but in 1923 a woman who had been partly politicised by her involvement in the co-operative movement and particularly the Co-operative Women’s Guild was elected as a Labour MP, Margaret Bondfield would go on to become the first female Cabinet Minister.

A V Alexander had been vice-chairman of the Weston-Super-Mare Co-operative Society who had gone on to become secretary of the Co-operative Parliamentary Committee.  He had then been selected as the Co-op Party candidate for Sheffield Hillsborough and elected in 1922.  In the second Labour Government in 1929 he entered the Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty, becoming the Co-operative Party’s first Cabinet Minister.

Up until 1927 whilst Co-operative Party MPs took the Labour whip in the House of Commons and voted with the Labour Party there was no formal agreement between the parties.

At the Co-operative Congress in Cheltenham in 1927 the Cheltenham Agreement was approved which created the sister party arrangement that we have today with the Labour Party.

In 1924 the challenge for our parties was to prove that we could run a government.  Whilst the government was short-lived it did have a number of successes and, in comparison to the recent Tory Governments we have suffered, it was relatively stable.

It is important to know our history and to understand it.  It is important to pay tribute to pioneers like A V Alexander.  But those pioneers would tell us that it is just as important to win power today.  That is why one hundred years on it is important to get a Labour and Co-operative Government elected in this country.  It is great to see plans coming together around boosting the size of the co-operative economy, promoting co-operative and community ownership of renewable energy, promoting community ownership and dealing with the scourge of retail crime across the country.

Let us learn from history the importance of being in power and resolve to work for the election of many more co-operators to the House of Commons this year.