The values of cooperation; the values of the future

Gavin Shuker’s Parliamentary report to the Cooperative Party Annual Conference, 18 September 2015.

Conference – if the last twenty weeks have taught us anything, it is that a week is a long time in politics.

As the chair of the UK Parliamentary group – as representative of both our party and movement – I want to say this: there has rarely, if ever, been a more important time for our movement to be represented on the political spectrum.

All of us will share the sense of disappointment that comes with a lost election; a lost opportunity to put cooperative values into action – in government.

But it is a particular disappointment to lose so many at Westminster, who did so much to ensure our movement was recognised.

We as a Group are deeply saddened to see them leave Westminster: Meg Munn, Linda Riordan, Andy Love, Tom Greatrex, Ian Davidson, Mark Lazarowicz and Gemma Doyle – each of these were faithful servants of both their constituents and our party.

And let us pay particular attention to the work of Cathy Jamieson, my predecessor; and of course of Ed Balls. Few get the opportunity to put cooperative values into practice in government; even fewer leave the cooperative mark on the country. For this and many other unseen acts, conference, they deserve our thanks.

But we’ve been pleased to welcome Kate Osamor, continuing the tradition of a Co-operative presence in Edmonton and building on Andy’s and Lord Ted Graham’s legacy; and Rachel Maskell in York – elected in May and already a Shadow Defence Minister. I know we will benefit from their experiences and skills as this new Parliament progresses.

Labour leadership and mayoral selection campaigns have been arduous for the candidates, their teams and the selectorate alike. Two of our Group members have stood up and put themselves forward for important roles in our sister party and indeed the country. You have heard from the both today and saw why they would have been such worthy winners.

While we did not get the result we were hoped for at the election there is much to report on. And let us start by reflecting on the resounding success of the Keep it Co-op Campaign. Whether it was online and in the press, working to mobilise members or attendance at key meetings we sought to play our part, convincing the wider movement of the value of a party of cooperative values, advocating for the cooperative ideal to change our country.

Parliamentarians including Jonny Reynolds, Chris Leslie, Lucy Powell, Luciana Berger, Lord Kennedy and Baroness Thornton, pushed local community energy, mutual financial services, the role of social enterprise, credit unions and co-operative housing – and resulted in a Labour manifesto with a thick purple streak throughout.

Meg Munn fought an incredibly tough fight for important amendments to the Deregulation Bill. Over many months she pressed and harried the Government to understand the barriers that hold back co-operative nurseries; and the work was taken up by Baroness Glenys Thornton in the Lords. Although the Government remained unpersuaded, this work increased the profile for co-operative values in education and developed many new friends for the sector.

But elsewhere, the last Parliament demonstrated that even in opposition, we can succeed in changing laws and pressing the Government into mutual action.

The Energy Act won new support for community energy; and servicemen and women will benefit from the development of a new Credit Union facilities for the Armed Forces.

These are not just achievements chalked up, or even left to the ages on vellum – but real change in peoples’ lives.

So we find ourselves in opposition again; with the task to renew. We know there is big job of work for the Parliamentary Group to carry out.

I am delighted that in the new Labour leader’s top team, six members of our own top team are in the new Shadow Cabinet. We are represented at that table by Lucy Powell, Seema Malhotra, Luciana Berger, Jon Ashworth, Angela Smith and Steve Bassam.

Another five serve in shadow ministerial roles.

We’ve been active already.

We’ve already sought amendments to the Finance Bill to try and ensure that Government recognises the important differences between the mutual finance and the rest of the banking sector. The Building Societies inclusion in the Banking Levy will not only hurt their ability to lend to the mortgage market but deny them capital they cannot raise in the same way as others. This work will continue in the Lords.

Mutual rail amendments to the Scotland Bill already pursued in the Commons will be revisited in the Lords.

And it looks possible that co-operative and community led housing will need Parliamentary support if it is to escape the clutches of the new extension of Right to Buy within the new Housing Bill.

Co-operative Schools has sought our support within their work on the Schools Bill.

The Enterprise Bill will allow us to press the case for increased business support for our sector and the need for Government departments to actually understand coops.

And Community energy faces a Government who seems intent on pulling the rug from under it.

We will be active on all of these issues, and more.

I hope we can contribute, as MPs and Peers in an equally important way. In a debate where we do not have all of the answers.

The past twenty weeks have shown us there is an enormous desire for Westminster not just to be an island of political debate; but neccessary, but insufficient component of a far larger, deeper, and diverse movement for change.

Our own Stella Creasy’s deputy leadership campaign asked members what they would do, rather than telling the membership what she would do. The new leader of the Labour Party has called for a debate that is open, inclusive – and focussed on the ideas that will make our people in our country more equal; empowered, and provide them with a dignity in their lives and their communities.

Right across the country – in local government, in national assemblies, in workers cooperatives – we are showing that power is best utilised by the many and not just the few. There can be no rolling back into a stale old debate of the past.

I feel confident that, as your representatives in the Palace of Westminster, we won’t allow that to happen.

Because, conference – the values of cooperation – of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity – are not the of past; they are the future.

Let us resolve to enact them and make them real in communities across our land.

Let us build that future, together.