Co-operative Party Chair Gareth Thomas has urged its members to unite at this weekend's conference and create an agenda for co-operative change.
Mr Thomas, the MP for Harrow West, opened the Party's annual conference in Manchester today by telling dedicated activists that he wanted the organisation to be “more ambitious” and to believe “that our ideas can change the fundamentals of political debate in our country".
The MP for Harrow West, Mr Thomas said the values of co-operatives, solidarity, and mutuality need to be “embedded in our country’s political and economic landscape” and “at the heart of Labour’s next manifesto".
He added that Labour is currently looking at a new Co-op idea for new British banking disclosure rules and new obligations on banks to drive investment in credit unions and ‘community banks’, which is being championed by Chris Evans MP.
Mr Thomas said: “It’s one idea – it’s taken a huge amount of work. We need more of such ideas.”
He asked that why, during a housing crisis, does co-op housing in the UK struggle to get attention? Co-operative housing, he explained, make up less than one per cent of homes in Britain. He compared that to 18 percent in Sweden, 15 percent in Norway and 6 percent in Germany.
“There’s no-one else in politics, other than us, who is going to argue for co-operative housing,” he warned.
He added that “at a time when high cost lending has shot through the roof; a five fold increase in recent years” Credit Union membership is still just two and a half percent in UK, whereas it is almost 50 percent in the US.
“Who else is going to argue for Government and Businesses to do more on Credit Unions?” he said. “We need to create Co-op Party policy now.”
He urged members to “charge the nature of this Conference – to make it the beginning and the endpoint of a more thorough democratic approach” and said “serious policy takes hard graft".
“It isn’t a short conversation. It isn’t a brief debate – it takes serious preparation,” said Mr Thomas. “That process, I believe means we have to rethink the way we do policy.”
Finally he explained that this conference “will help us to pull together a bolder, more imaginative set of ideas than we were able to achieve under the last Government".