I want an economy based on democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. I want an alternative to the mad inhumanity of the unplanned, unprincipled market. I believe that co-operatives can be the building blocks of a new economy, where we can all come together to decide what we need to live a truly human life, and then devote our skills and energy and labour to achieving it.
Now, for around a century the Co-operative Party has been the political arm of the Co-operative Movement, trying to bring co-operative values into Government.
You’d think a strong co-operator like me would be a member of The Co-operative Party. But I’m not. You see, the Co-operative Party has an exclusive agreement with the Labour Party. Members of the Co-operative Party are barred from being members of any other political party—except Labour. Co-operative Party candidates stand under the banner ‘Labour & Co-operative’.
The Co-operative Party is largely funded by donations from The Co-operative Society and other big Co-ops. Last year the Society gave The Co-operative Party more than £750,000.
The Co-operative Party helps fund the election campaigns of its Labour & Co-operative candidates, such as Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. In Scotland it has helped MPs Cathy Jamieson, Ian Davidson, Gemma Doyle and Mark Lazarowicz. In the Scottish Parliament it has helped Johann Lamont, Kezia Dugdale, Claudia Beamish and James Kelly. In the past it also helped Gordon Brown, the Co-op Party’s first ever Prime Minister.
My own personal view is that the millions and millions of pounds that have been spent on supporting Labour through the Co-op Party have too often failed to bring co-operative principles into Government.
For me, the biggest failure was when the economic crisis hit. Co-operative Party Prime Minister Brown didn’t remutualise Northern Rock. He never considered creating a co-operative model for any of the big banks that were taken into majority public ownership. Instead, they were left in the hands of self-selected rich shareholders, who were happy to take our cash and carry on as normal, scamming the public and handing out big bonuses to their friends at the front of the corporate trough. Co-operative values never got a look-in.
So I’ve started the ‘Real Co-op’ campaign. The Real Co-op campaign is for every member of The Co-operative Society who believes that no single party has a monopoly on co-operative values.
We believe it makes sense for The Co-operative Society to support political parties that share those values. But no single political party should be able to take our financial support for granted. And every party should be challenged to make sure that they support our co-operative values.
For the first time this year, The Co-operative Society AGM will be run on a one-member-one-vote basis. We tried to get a motion to AGM that would have kept a political fund that would have been open to The Co-operative Party and others. But we were blocked by the Co-operative Society’s bureaucracy from bringing it forward.
But there will definitely be a motion on whether to continue the Society’s subscription to The Co-operative Party. So we still have the chance to end our exclusive link with Labour and start to build real co-operative politics.
If you’re a Co-operative Group member, I hope you’ll support the campaign. Please sign up at our website RealCoop.net—you’ll find links there to our Facebook group and Twitter feed. Share the links with friends and family. And together, we can get real co-operative politics on the agenda.
• David Eyre lives in Dunbar and is a member of the East Lothian branch of the SSP. He’s also a member of The Co-operative Society, The Midcounties Co-operative and the SCVO Credit Union. See RealCoop.net