Q&A: Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Co-op Party

'We’re working very hard to ensure that co-operative policies, viewpoints, and our values and principles will be a mainstream part of the election'

Joe Fortune was appointed general secretary of the Co-operative Party in July, taking over from Claire McCarthy. He has been working with the Party since 2010, and previously served as the its national political and policy manager. 

With co-operative ideas gaining traction via initiatives such as the Preston model in local government, and the Party scoring high-profile successes with its campaigns on food justice and modern slavery, he has just worked his first Party conference in the new role.

What are you hoping to achieve with the Party in your new role?

I’ve been working at the Co-operative Party for a while now so I’ve got a good idea of what I’m getting myself into! It’s been a very busy time for the Party and it’s a real honour to be stepping into this position. In terms of the future, as I said to the conference, I will enjoy the role more when we as a party deliver upon our even greater ambitions for the co-operative movement.

Related: Co-op Party sets out focus for general election campaign

Among the wider public there’s an appetite for different ways of doing things, and for new solutions. How can the Party help co-op ideas gain traction?

At this year’s Party conference, we picked the theme “building a fairer future” for a reason. When you see where the country finds itself, people are looking for new and dynamic answers for the challenges we face, and co-operative ideas, the values and principles of the movement, are an important part of that. There is a yearning for the things we are doing in our work, and that yearning matches our activity and our beliefs. You see it in local government, with the work of co-operative councillors, and there’s been a mainstreaming of our ideas across the spectrum, such as the Labour Party’s commitment to doubling the size of the co-operative movement. When we look at the post-Brexit agenda, we expect a lot of people will come to our ideas as we look to shape the country’s future.

What ideas is the Party working on to develop this agenda?

Building on the Party’s ability to amplify things that are happening in the movement is a key objective. One example of this is the work we’ve been doing on modern slavery – that’s been a success and we’ve seen nearly 100 local authorities go above and beyond their statutory duties on tackling this problem. We’ve also been amplifying the work being done by co-operative retailers on food justice and on the campaign against violence towards retail workers. This sort of crime is getting worse and we as a Party are playing our part in working to tackle it.

Issues such as retail crime involve different sectors and players – does this mean more collaborative work for the Party?

Yes – this is not just about politics – and it’s not just a policy issue. It involves local activity and we’re going to be working much more closely with police and crime commissioners in the future on providing protection for retail workers – you’ll see us doing this much more in the coming weeks and months. And there’s a very important role for trade unions on this, such as Usdaw – we’re very proud of our work with the union on this. The next big push on this campaign will be the Freedom From Fear Week (11-17 November) and we’re working with Usdaw on that.

Related: Co-op Party conference pledges to fight for a fairer economy

What is the Party working on now?

As ever the Party is working on a wide range of activity. At the moment this includes work on community assets, plus the two important policy documents that were presented to the conference [on Climate Change, Energy & the Environment, and Community, Place & Power]. In terms of the general election … we are prepared to meet [the challenges] from any set of elections – we do a lot of work on this year in, year out. We’re working very hard to ensure that co-operative policies, viewpoints, and our values and principles will be a mainstream part of that election. I’m ready whenever that comes. 

  • This interview was taken before the decision was taken to call a general election
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