Frequently Asked Questions – The Co-operative Party

Frequently Asked Questions

Everything you ever wanted to know about who we are, what we do, and our links with the Labour Party and Co-operative movement.

What is a co-operative?

Co-operatives are businesses owned and run by their members. Whether these members are customers, employees or local residents, all are given an equal say in what the business does or a share in the profits.

1 billion people across the world are members of co-operatives, and often describe themselves as ‘co-operators’. The original principles that co-operatives must adhere to were set out by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844, and are still in use today.

What is the Co-operative Party?

We’re the political arm of the wider co-operative movement, which includes over 6000 co-operatively-owned business across the UK.

We believe that the only way to create a just and fair society is through power being shared evenly throughout society, and not arbitrarily based on wealth, class, gender and race.

We are registered with the electoral commission, and as such are required to submit regular information about candidates and donations, which are available publicly here.

What does the Party do?

Our role is to promote co-operative ideas in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff and in local councils across the country. There are 26 Labour/Co-operative MPs in Parliament.

In particular this means:

  • Creating a level playing field for co-operatives, including promoting the growth of a new generation of community and worker-owned co-ops
  • Promoting co-operative solutions across politics, in areas including community ownership and reforming our public services.

What has the Co-operative Party ever specifically done for the co-operative movement?

The Co-operative Party was founded at the end of the First World War by the co-operative movement to defend itself against a government actively hostile to the co-operative movement.

Since then, the Party has continued to work to defend the movement’s vital interests.

Following a nightmare decade of insolvencies, demutualisation and mergers in the 1980s and 1990s, change was vital. The Co-operative Party led work towards the first wholesale transformation of co-operative law for a generation – strengthening protection against demutualisation and taking measures to ensure that the laws governing co-operatives create a level playing field with other corporate forms.

A single piece of secondary legislation – passed by Co-operative politicians – worked to remove the requirement on co-operative societies to have their interim accounts audited. This brought them into line with privately-owned businesses. This single measure continues to save co-operatives in the UK more money per year than the entire annual budget of the Co-operative Party.

In 2000 the Co-operative Party secured the Prime Minister’s personal support for setting up the Co-operative Commission. All but 3 of the 60 recommendations were eventually adopted by the movement. This led to a restructuring of the retail businesses, an increase in profitability and greater delivery of social benefit.

Why should a diverse co-operative movement have a single co-operative party?

As you’d expect of a social movement with millions of members, co-operators come from all political affiliations, and none. In seeking to secure political change, whether in government or opposition, the Party works with fellow co-operators of all political parties.

The Co-operative Party makes no claim to be an all-encompassing, comprehensive political representative of all co-operators everywhere- which, given the diversity of our movement, would be a near impossible task!

The role of the Co-operative Party is much more specific than that. Its value to the movement is as a tool for changing policy, removing barriers to co-operation and promoting wider values at the heart of government and parliament. Whatever the personal political views of individual co-operators, and whether or not they individually choose to be members, the Party is a valuable voice for the movement to have at its disposal – and one which time and time again has proven its worth.

What is your relationship with Labour?

The Co-operative Party has had an electoral agreement with the Labour Party since 1927. The agreement means that at elections, we stand joint Labour & Co-operative candidates.

As an independent political party, we maintain our own membership, staff, national executive committee (NEC) and policy platform, all of which are independent of Labour’s.

Do you fund the Labour Party?

In 1917, the co-operative movement decided to establish the Co-operative Party as the most effective way for it to have a political voice inside parliament.

Because of the shared values and historic roots between the labour and co-operative movements, in 1927 the Co-operative Party formed a strategic electoral agreement with the Labour Party which has continued until present day. This has enabled the Co-operative movement to be represented in Parliament and within government when otherwise it would have not.

The Co-operative Party does provide some financial support to the campaigns of individual MPs and Councillors. These candidates are separately selected by local members of both the Labour and Co-operative Parties, and therefore stand for election as ‘Labour & Co-operative’.

Do you fund MPs?

Constituencies which select a Labour & Co-operative candidate may receive a financial contribution from the Co-operative Party towards election expenses. These contributions are reported and recorded by the Electoral Commission in the same manner as any other election expense. In total, funding for politicians amounts to less than 8% of the Co-operative Party’s income.

The remaining 92% is used to build the Co-operative Party itself, run its democracy and provide a policy development function. This includes a national office with 11 staff, support for local Co-operative Parties and individual members, as well as developing and promoting influential policies in areas such as rail mutualisation, community energy and co-operative schools.

Shouldn’t the Co-operative Party just be an independent party?

The Co-operative Party is an independent party. it maintains its own membership, staff, national executive committee (NEC) and policy platform, all of which are independent of Labour’s.

It stands candidates jointly with the Labour Party at elections in order to see its policies turned into law and co-operators elected across government government.

What is a Labour & Co-operative MP?

There are many Labour MPs who are also members of the Co-operative Party (see below). Labour & Co-operative MPs are those who have been selected by both their local Co-operative Party and Labour Party to stand as an ‘official’ candidate.

Co-operative Party candidates are selected from a National Parliamentary Panel, onto which any Party member can apply. You can find more details here. There are currently 25 Labour Co-operative MPs.

Why are members of political parties other than Labour prevented from joining?

Like all political parties, Co-operative Party members are excluded from being a member of any other party. Anyone is welcome to join, but they must first resign from any other political parties of which they are a member.

This is an arrangement shared by almost all membership-based parties – and indeed, even if our membership was open to members of other Parties, they would be prevented from joining us due to their own party rules.

Our electoral agreement means that an exception is made for those who wish to be a member of both the Co-operative Party and the Labour Party. This is by no means required though, and many of our members choose solely to be Co-operative Party members.

Other parties have policies to support co-operatives too – why not ally with them?

Whether in government or opposition, the Party works with co-operators from across all parties (see the previous question). And in an increasingly multi-party system, there are inevitably areas where we share common ground.

The question then, is not just about values, but also having the tools and clout to deliver on them for the movement. One approach is that of the Green Party, which has stood in elections for over 40 years. In that time, the Party has secured the election of just one MP, control of a single local authority and no policies turned into law.

The co-operative movement chose to take a different approach – that of having its own independent political party, but with a partnership that enables it to win seats in every tier of government. Less high-profile, but far more effective.

Working Labour has proved pretty successful. Here’s a handful of examples of what we’ve achieved together, none of which would have happened had we remained a minority party.

We have the best of both worlds: the ability to develop policy and internal democracy as an independent political party, but with the means to put co-operators at the heart of government and to turn our policies into law via our relationship with Labour.

What is your relationship to the Co-operative Bank?

The Co-operative Bank is part-owned by the Co-operative Group, one of several subscribing retail societies (see below).

Wasn’t your chairman convicted of drug posession?

The former non-executive Chairman of the Co-operative Bank, Paul Flowers, was convicted of drug possession in 2014. He did also serve on the Co-operative Party’s NEC as an appointed representative of the Co-operative Group’s Board.

When these allegations first came to light Paul Flowers was suspended from membership of the Co-operative Party. He currently holds no position or has any involvement within either the Party or the Co-operative Group.

Who funds you?

We are funded by subscriptions from six retail co-operative societies as well as fees and donations made by individual members.

Unlike large-scale donations made to other Parties by big businesses and wealthy individuals, it is up to individual members of our subscribing societies whether or not they wish to partner with us. Most do this annually, as part of their internal democratic processes.

I have a concern or a complaint about a co-op

One of the things that make co-operatives different to traditional businesses is that ultimately, all decisions (such as its ethics, management or how it is governed), can be questioned by individual members.

This means that in most cases, the best way to change a co-operative’s behaviour is by joining it as a member, and by taking an active role.

As a Party, our role is to promote a fair environment for co-operatives, as well as having a voice in longer-term debates that affect the movement as a whole. This means that in most cases, questions or complaints should be addressed to individual societies directly.