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Co-operative Party

The Co-operative Party
Leader Gareth Thomas (Chair)
Founded 17 October 1917
Headquarters 65 St John Street
London, EC1M 4AN
Youth wing Co-operative Party Youth
Membership  (2011) 9,000
Ideology Co-operatism
Social democracy
Political position Centre-left
National affiliation Labour Party
International affiliation None
House of Commons
24 / 650
House of Lords
15 / 819
London Assembly
8 / 25
Local Councillors
1,500 / 20,565
Police & Crime Commissioners
2 / 41
Scottish Parliament
4 / 129
National Assembly for Wales
9 / 60
Politics of the United Kingdom
Political parties

The Co-operative Party is a political party in the United Kingdom supporting co-operative principles. The party contests elections jointly with the Labour Party as "Labour and Co-operative Party" candidates. Co-operative Party members are not permitted to be members of any other political party in the UK apart from the Labour Party and Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in Northern Ireland. The Co-operative Party is a legally separate entity, and is registered as a political party with the Electoral Commission.[1]


  • Principal concerns over time 1
  • The party today 2
    • House of Commons 2.1
    • House of Lords 2.2
    • Police and Crime Commissioners (England and Wales) 2.3
    • Scottish Parliament 2.4
    • National Assembly for Wales 2.5
    • London Assembly 2.6
  • Structure 3
    • Regional Party Councils/Members' Regions 3.1
    • Funding and finance 3.2
    • Candidates 3.3
    • Annual conference 3.4
    • Leadership 3.5
  • History 4
    • Joint Parliamentary Committee 4.1
    • First World War 4.2
    • Central Co-operative Parliamentary Representation Committee 4.3
    • The rise of the sister party 4.4
    • Chairs of the Co-operative Party 4.5
  • Noted Co-operative Party politicians 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Principal concerns over time

The Co-operative Party was formed in 1917 after being approved by the May Congress of the British co-operative movement held in Swansea.[2][3] Since an electoral pact established in 1927, the party has stood joint candidates with the Labour Party.[4] In 1938 a written constitution was adopted by the Co-operative Party which formalised links between the two parties, and in 1946 Co-operative candidates first stood in elections under the Labour Co-operative banner.[2][5]

In its formative years the Co-operative Party was almost exclusively concerned with the trading and commercial problems of the co-operative movement. Since the 1930s it has widened its emphasis, using influence gained through strong links with the political and commercial left to spread what it sees as co-operative ethos and moral principles. The basic principles underpinning the party are to seek recognition for co-operative enterprises, recognition for the social economy, and to advance support for co-operatives and co-operation across Europe and the developing world. The party stands for a sustainable economy and society, a culture of citizenship and socially responsible business represented by the practice of retail and industrial co-operatives. The Co-operative Party seeks to advance its agenda through the Parliamentary Labour Party, with whom it shares common values.

The party today

The modern party is the political arm of the wider British co-operative movement and so being a member of another co-operative enterprise is a requirement for membership. The party's ties with the Labour Party are strong, with Co-operative members who wish to stand for election also having to be members of the Labour Party, as joint Labour and Co-operative Party candidates.[6]

House of Commons

There are currently 24 Co-operative MPs:

House of Lords

In the House of Lords, 16 are Co-operative Party members:

Police and Crime Commissioners (England and Wales)

There are two Labour and Co-operative Police and Crime Commissioners:

Scottish Parliament

There are four Co-operative Party members in the Scottish Parliament:

National Assembly for Wales

In the National Assembly for Wales, the following nine AMs are members of the Co-operative Party:

London Assembly

Eight members of the London Assembly are Co-operative Party members:


At the local level, the party is organised around the trading units of the retail societies. Party branches exist at a more local level to organise activities and liaise with Constituency Labour Parties.

Regional Party Councils/Members' Regions

  • Anglia
  • Bath & West
  • Bristol
  • Brussels
  • Chelmsford Star
  • Coventry & Warwickshire
  • Dorset
  • East of England Society
  • Hampshire & Isle of Wight
  • Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire
  • Kent
  • London
  • Manchester & District
  • Midcounties Oxford
  • Midcounties Swindon and Gloucester
  • Midcounties West Midlands
  • Midlands Eastern & Southern
  • Midlands Northern
  • Midlands Western
  • North and Mid Wales
  • North Eastern & Cumbria
  • North Staffs & Cheshire East
  • North West North
  • Northern Ireland
  • Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire & Erewash
  • Plymouth & South West
  • Scottish
  • South and West Essex
  • South Wales
  • South Western
  • Surrey, Berkshire & Buckinghamshire
  • Sussex
  • West Mercia
  • West Wales
  • Yorkshire and the Humber

Other: Co-operative Party Youth section

Funding and finance

Most of the party's income comes from grants made by the retail co-operative societies and from members' fees. The Co-operative Group is a substantial funder of the party.[7] Local retail societies provide most funding for local party councils, which form the basis of members contact with the party. The party recognises several structures which exist without society support (voluntary parties) as being part of the whole. Subscriptions from members also support the party financially.


As a result of an electoral agreement with the Labour Party,[6] "Labour and Co-operative Party" candidates receive financial help with election expenses from the Co-operative Party, including funding parliamentary candidates. There are other Labour MPs who are Co-operative Party members but are not sponsored. One of these was Gareth Thomas MP, chair of the Co-operative Party since 2001 and of the Co-operative Congress in 2003, who was invited to join the parliamentary group in 2003. Until the 1990s, the number of Labour Co-operative candidates was capped at 30. The party's capacity to support more than the previously agreed number is debatable as the prospects of non-sponsored members are not always unfavourable. The benefits of the agreement are twofold, Labour gaining candidates with lower election costs and the party gaining influence within a Labour movement. The Co-operative Party has not registered a logo with the electoral commission for use on ballot papers. Following the passing of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, candidates standing under a joint description were unable to use any registered emblem.[8] The law was subsequently updated in 2013 to allow the use of an emblem by candidates standing jointly for two parties.[9] This will allow Labour and Co-operative Party candidates to use the registered Labour Party emblem in the United Kingdom general election, 2015.

Annual conference

The party holds an annual conference with delegates elected by their local members by local parties and societies. The inaugural conference was held in 1920 in Methodist Central Hall Westminster and the first annual conference in Preston in 1924. The 2006 conference was held in Sheffield in September. The 2007 conference, marking 90 years, was held at Central Hall, Westminster. The 2010 Conference, held in Cardiff included a reception hosted at the Welsh Assembly Building, the Senedd, marking the launch of the Party's Manifesto for the 2011 Welsh Assembly Election. In 2014, the Party's Annual Conference was held from 10–12 October at TUC Congress House in London.


Karin Christiansen has served as the party's General Secretary since 2012, and is the first female General Secretary. She was preceded by Michael Stephenson, a former adviser to Tony Blair, who held the position from June 2008,[10] and by Peter Hunt, in post since 1998, having replaced Peter Clarke.


Joint Parliamentary Committee

The Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up in 1881 by The Co-operative Union. It was primarily a watchdog on parliamentary activities. Issues and legislation could be raised in the House of Commons only by lobbying sympathetic, usually Labour, MPs. As it was somewhat unsatisfactory to have to lobby MPs on each individual issue, motions were passed at the Co-operative Union Annual Congress urging direct parliamentary representation. However, for much of this early period societies would not commit funds.

First World War

At the start of the war, the many retail societies in the Co-operative movement grew in both membership and trade, in part because of their very public anti-profiteering stance. When conscription was introduced and food and fuel supplies restricted, these societies began to suffer. The movement was under-represented on the various governmental distribution committees and draft tribunals. Co-operatives received minimal supplies and even management were often drafted, whereas business opponents were able to have even clerks declared vital for the war effort. Societies were also required to pay excess profits tax, although their co-operative nature meant they made no profits.

A motion was tabled at the 1917 Congress held in Swansea by the Joint Parliamentary Committee and 104 retail societies, calling for direct representation at national and local government levels. The motion was passed by 1979 votes to 201.[2]

Central Co-operative Parliamentary Representation Committee

An Emergency Political Conference was held on 18 October 1917. As a result, the Central Co-operative Parliamentary Representation Committee was formed in 1917, with the objective of putting co-operators into the House of Commons. This was soon renamed the Co-operative Party. The first national secretary was Samuel Perry, later a Member of Parliament and the father of Fred Perry.[11]

At first the party put forward its own candidates. The first was H J May, later Secretary of the International Co-operative Alliance, who was unsuccessful at the 1918 Prestwich by-election. Ten then stood in the 1918 general election.[2] One candidate met with success, Alfred Waterson, who became a Member of Parliament for the Kettering seat. Waterson took the Labour whip in Parliament. In 1919, 151 Co-operative Party councillors were elected at local level. Waterson retired from Parliament in 1922, but four new Co-operative MPs were elected that same year, including A.V. Alexander, all of whom took the Labour whip. Six were elected in 1923 and five in 1924.

However, since the 1927 Cheltenham Agreement, the party has had an electoral agreement with the Labour Party, which allows for a limited number of Labour Co-operative candidates. This means that the parties involved do not oppose each other. The agreement has been amended several times, most recently in 2003, which was made in the name of the Co-operative Party rather than the Co-operative Union. After the formal agreement, nine Labour Co-operative MPs were elected at the 1929 general election, and Alexander was made a cabinet minister. However, only one was returned at the 1931 election against the backdrop of a massive defeat for Labour.

The rise of the sister party

Labour's recovery as a credible party of government during World War II and the formal links and local affiliations brought by the 1927 agreement saw benefits electorally for the Co-operative Party. In 1945, 23 Labour Co-operative MPs were elected and two had high office in the Labour government – Alexander and Alfred Barnes, who had been chair of the Party.

But with Labour's fluctuating fortunes and the slow post-war decline of the co-operative movement, the Party saw its influence and standing fall. By 1983, another nadir for Labour fortunes, only eight Labour Co-operative MPs were elected.

However, in 1997, all 23 candidates won seats in Parliament and, after Labour assumed power, the Party gained its first members of the Cabinet since AV Alexander: Alun Michael 1998–99 (later First Minister for Wales) and Ed Balls 2007–2010. In 2001, only one candidate was defeated: Faye Tinnion, who had stood against the Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague.

Chairs of the Co-operative Party

  • 1918–1924 Mr W. H. Watkins
  • 1924–1945 Alfred Barnes MP
  • 1945–1955 William Coldrick MP
  • 1955–1957 Albert Ballard
  • 1957–1965 James Peddie
  • 1965–1972 Herbert Kemp CSD, JP
  • 1972–1978 John Parkinson
  • 1978–1982 Tom Turvey JP
  • 1982–1989 Brian Hellowell
  • 1989–1995 Jessie Carnegie
  • 1995–1996 Peter Nurse
  • 1996–2001 Jim Lee
  • 2001–present Gareth Thomas MP

Noted Co-operative Party politicians

See UK Co-operative Party politicians and List of Labour Co-operative Members of Parliament for wider lists.

Nicholas Russell (died 17 August 2014), the 6th Earl Russell (and grandson of the philosopher and 3rd Earl, Bertrand Russell) was a strong supporter of the Co-operative Party and secretary of its Waltham Forest branch; he was vocal in his call for the abolition of the House of Lords.


  • The Co-operative Party – At a Glance (2003), John Blizzard & Richard Tomlinson, The Co-operative Party.
  • Consumers in politics, a history and general review of the Co-operative Party (1968), Thomas F. Carbery, Manchester: Manchester U.P.
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  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ BBC News "Co-op Group to continue funding political parties" 16 May 2015
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External links

  • Co-operative Party Website
  • The National Co-operative Archive holds records relating to the Co-operative Party.
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