A new decade: Can co-operation overcome division?

Co-ops look to a new year, a new decade, a new government, a new political landscape outside the EU

The general election result was a shock to a lot of people, with Boris Johnson’s emphatic win gaining the Conservatives their largest majority since the Thatcher era.

Labour lost a whopping 59 MPs – including seats that have been red for over 100 years, like Rother Valley, or have never returned a Conservative MP before, like Don Valley. 

As the dust settles and the country returns to business as usual after election fever – and enters a new decade outside the EU – co-operatives are exploring ways to engage with the new Tory leadership to ensure the model is recognised as a tool for all, and certainly one that has a role in helping the Conservatives achieve many of the aims set out in their manifesto.

Co-operatives UK’s secretary general, Ed Mayo, highlighted how Co-ops are “a proven, pragmatic tool for people to work together and achieve their aspirations for stronger communities, better work and a more fulfilling, sustainable way of life.” 

The apex body says the Conservatives have committed to empowering communities in local economic decision-making, and believes that
co-ops are also central to the party’s ambitions for community-led housing. 

“Our top priority here is for the government to take action in the upcoming Budget, to stop a subset of housing co-ops being wrongfully taxed as if they are ‘property enveloping’ schemes,” added Mr Mayo.

Meanwhile, Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Co-op Party, said the Co-operative Party’s  26 MPs in Westminster will be making the case for co-operative values and principles in the new Parliament. Party MPs have already put forward a co-operative response to the new government’s first Queen’s Speech.

Mr Fortune added: “We have ambitious plans for a fairer society, and our team at Westminster will be working alongside our AMs, MSPs, Peers, councillors and thousands of members to shape a country based on co-operation.”

Steve Murrells, chief executive of the Co-op Group, thinks that co-operatives and co-operation have an active role to play in bridging some of the community divides in UK society that have emerged as a result of current political crises and economic problems.

“Brexit has been three years of inertia, and an inability to face into the real issues,” he says. “Now we can start to address the things that are obvious to everybody when they walk around their local community: like the fact that the infrastructure of social needs is broken. 

“We’ve got a role to play, we can make a real difference, we can bring awareness to some of these things and then put our shoulders to the wall, and try to change things. I think the future is going to get a lot better than what we have experienced these last three years.”

Mr Murrells added that the Group needs to be agnostic and “needs to work with different parties on issues that are important to us,” highlighting its recent campaigns on modern slavery, loneliness and retail crime. 

“These are things where we need to work with the government of the day to make a difference for ordinary people. Modern slavery, for example, was a bill that came through the connection with Lord McColl, a Tory peer.”

Mr Murrells added: “Facing into the austerity reality of what’s going on up and down our communities is important. Homelessness is up, crime is getting worse. But co-ops can make a real difference, so it’s on us to race and campaign on important issues and then influence the lawmakers to help us face into these problems.

“Now, after the general election, we can start to move forward, and hopefully start to face into some of the inequality issues that currently grip this country. I’m actually very optimistic and very relieved that we’ve got a platform now to get on and do some things.”

This month, Co-op News takes a look at some of the ways that co-operatives are working in partnership to bridge some of the current divides, and are working for a future based on co-operation, not division. Watch out for a series of articles on our website this week, looking at initiatives from credit unions to co-op councils.

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