Gareth Thomas has called on Labour Party members to join the Co-operative Party if they shared its values and principles and help in the task of creating a “more co-operative Britain”. Speaking at the Labour Party’s annual conference in Liverpool, Mr Thomas also warned that the party’s NEC would not accept being used for furthering other agendas.
In August a Sunday Times report claimed a faction within the Labour Party was looking to use the Co-operative Party as a vehicle for an opposition group to Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr Thomas, who chairs the Co-operative Party, told delegates: “If you want to use our Party for other ends then you should think again because the Co-operative Party’s NEC have been clear that we will not tolerate entryism of any form. From any group.”
The MP for Harrow West talked about the long history of the two organisations, which signed an electoral agreement in 1927.
He talked about the work of the two parties in campaigning for an armed forces credit union, to provide services for British service personnel, similar to the work of Navy Federal in the USA, the largest credit union in the world.
“Just one of those credit unions recently announced that in just the first few months they have made over £300,000 of affordable loans to service personnel. That’s vulnerable young men and women, families, veterans no longer being forced into the hands of legal loan sharks. That is the co-operative difference.
“The co-operative movement was formed and has grown over the last two centuries to provide a real alternative to the broken markets and vested interests which work against the interests of ordinary working people,” said Mr Thomas.
He argued that social care was one of the sectors most needing such an alternative. At its annual conference in Cardiff two weeks ago, the Co-operative Party published Taking Care, a report proposing an alternative vision to the existing social care market. The MP said the party was calling for a “Right to Run”, with carers, care recipients and their families having a guaranteed right to representation on the company boards of private sector care providers.
“Those who provide and rely on social care services have the knowledge and vested interest necessary to deliver good quality, cost effective care.
“The best way to align those interests and that knowledge is through the mutual ownership of care services, with care providers that are owned and run by care recipients and their families, care workers and the wider community.
“The Coalition Government wanted to mutualise public sector services. We say it’s time to mutualise the private sector in social care, explained Mr Thomas.
The MP for Harrow West also referred to the EU referendum vote, saying that the Co-operative Party would be campaigning for full access to the single market, an action which he described as “an exercise in international co-operation that’s good for British jobs and co-op businesses”. He highlighted that the public had lost trust in politicians and asked delegates to make the case for the redistribution of economic, social and state power away from Westminster and back to cities, regions and communities.
The Co-operative Party will be celebrating its centenary in 2017. “It will be a chance to celebrate our proud history. But above all it must be a moment to look forward,” said Mr Thomas. He mentioned some of the party’s key areas of work, such as legislating to make it easier to set up and expand co-operatives, supporting the growth of credit unions, backing supporter trusts and energy co-ops and lobbying for mutualising the BBC.
The Party will dedicate more resources to developing its councillors network and will continue work on helping to build a co-operative economy and an education system based on the values of collaboration, and developing an alternative to the housing market.
“So – if you agree that co-operatives are a better way of doing business; if you believe in the power of people to come together to challenge vested interests and take control based on their shared interests; if you want to see public services like the railways, the utility companies and social care run in the interests of people not profit – with employees and consumers at their heart – then join us. Join us to celebrate 100 years of achievement but also to make the next century in Britain a co-operative century,” Mr Thomas told delegates.