Labour leader candidates debate co-operation

As the Labour party prepares to vote for its next leader, the four leadership and five deputy leadership candidates are taking part in a hustings organised by the Co-operative Party....

As the Labour party prepares to vote for its next leader, the four leadership and five deputy leadership candidates are taking part in a hustings organised by the Co-operative Party.

Liz Kendall, Jeremy Corbyn, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper will be addressing potential voters at the Amnesty International Auditorium, London, on Tuesday, 21 July. Ahead of the event, each prepared a statement on co-operative action, how they would support co-operation, and how, under their leadership, Labour would work with the Co-operative Party.

Statements were also prepared by the five deputy leader hopefuls Ben Bradshaw, Angela Eagle, Caroline Flint, Tom Watson and Stella Creasy. Ms Creasy is the only Labour and Co-operative MP in the contest.

Here are the statements of the leadership candidates in full:

Liz Kendall

Liz Kendall
Liz Kendall

(MP for Leicester West, Shadow Minister for Care and Older People)

The Co-operative Party isn’t just Labour’s sister party, it is the political voice of a co-operative movement that shares common roots with Labour and the labour movement.

The first trade unionists were also co-operators. Friendly societies, educational associations and trade unions gave working people the power to shape their own lives. They didn’t differentiate – all were simply mechanisms through which working people could use their collective power to build a better life for themselves, their families and their communities.

I want to modernise those traditions of radical democracy for our age – not as new or old Labour but today’s and tomorrow’s Labour.

The truth is that both the Labour Party and Co-operative Party share a common challenge. We both need to revitalise and re-connect with the movements that created us. I want to congratulate the Co-operative Party for its success in the Keep it Co-op campaign, which bravely and convincingly made the case for a modern, outward-looking co-operative politics, rooted in communities. As leader, I would work closely with the Co-operative Party – including the talented Co-op group of MPs to ensure that our two movements continue making that case together.

In policy terms too, the co-operative movement has led the way in showing that a different approach isn’t just possible, but practical. Co-operative councils in places such as Milton Keynes and Glasgow have led Whitehall in demonstrating how services can be delivered in a way that builds people’s self-confidence, restores civic pride and deepens our democracy. Power needs to be shared with communities and individuals, not just with town halls and local politicians.

In areas such as community renewable energy and football, co-operators are showing how ordinary people can help to drive the shift towards the diverse, innovative and long-term economy we need. The success of co-op schools shows how pupil, parent, patient and staff voice must be at the heart of our plans to reform public services.

At the heart of Co-operative Party’s 2015 manifesto was the ambition not just to support the co-operative movement, but to use co-operative values to build a fairer economy. Like the Co-operative Party, I want to see employees given a real voice in the workplace. Not just a single person on remuneration committees but a real voice in how their companies are run.

I’m standing not just to be Labour leader, but the next Labour prime minister. And as the leader of a Labour and Co-operative government, the co-operative movement will continue to be a not just a partner, but a priority. The labour and co-operative movements have always been on the side of the powerless and calling the powerful to account. Winning in 2020 means rediscovering those radical traditions once again.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

(MP for Islington North)

“Of the best leaders, the people ‘We say we did it ourselves’,” so said Lao Tzu. It was a quote Tony Benn was very fond of remembering.

Tony was one of the few ministers of state to truly try to bring co-operative principles into the heart of government. As a young trade union official I had the pleasure of working with him when he was encouraging workers to come up with co-operative plans to save their jobs, like at Triumph.

What that process unleashed was greater creativity and innovation that top-down management – and some very top-down unions back then – felt comfortable with. But what it showed is that if you involve people as mutual participants in building their own future then you release their energy and enterprise, in the true sense of that word.

I believe in public ownership, but I have never favoured the remote nationalised model that prevailed in the post-war era. Like a majority of the population and a majority of even Tory voters, I want the railways back in public ownership. But public control should mean just that, not simply state control: so we should have passengers, rail workers and government too, co-operatively running the railways to ensure they are run in our interests and not for private profit.

This model should replace both the old Labour model of topdown operation by central diktat and Tories favoured model of unaccountable privatised operators running our public services for their own ends.

Take education, where local schools are now encouraged to compete against one another. I want them to co-operate, and the best way for that to be achieved is through an accountable co-ordinating and co-operative structure that involves parents, teachers, and councillors in reformed local education authorities. Within this structure, schools can co-operate, share best practice, and pool their resources. It would be addition and an expansion of what you have achieved with your network of co-operative schools.

Our vision for 2020 must be about improving living standards, which will fall further for many in the wake of George Osborne’s Budget proposals. But it must also be about improving people’s control over their own lives – especially in their work and their housing.

For too many people their job and their housing is not a source of security, but a cause for anxiety. We need to change that. So I want to give employees a statutory right to request employee ownership during business succession, and to tenants to demand the same if their landlord decides to sell multiple properties.

The co-operative movement is a force for human emancipation here in the UK and around the world. I want the next Labour government in 2020 to work with you so that we are driven by co-operative principles: self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.

Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham

(MP for Leigh, Shadow Secretary of State for Health)

The roots of the Labour movement are deep in the Co-operative Party.

So are mine.

I joined the Co-op Party when I saw the benefits that mutual support and collectivism could bring in the modern world. I was working with a football task force set up by the Labour Government to stop unscrupulous directors from asset-stripping clubs and taking them away from their communities and fans.

Northampton Town found a new way of owning a club through a supporters’ trust, where fans ran the club through a democratic forum.

It was obvious that this new mutualism was the way forward.

On the recommendation of the Football Task Force, working with former Culture Secretary Chris Smith, we set up Supporters Direct to promote fan ownership of clubs. The idea blossomed. The number of supporters’ trusts exploded.

But for me, the importance of that was not just that many football clubs were saved. It was that the Co-operative ideal, the belief in mutualism, was brought to a new, younger generation of people, who had never heard of co-operatives before.

That is the way I want a Labour Party I lead and the Co-operative Party to work together. If big ideas can work in football they can work in many other areas of the economy and society, and I want Co-op members to be leading the way on new ideas, new policy solutions and new thinking for a 2020 Labour government.

On health, I have valued your work on whole-person care – meeting the physical, mental and social care needs of a person together. It is an idea I championed as Health Secretary in Government and in the Shadow Cabinet.

On housing, I believe that absent landlords should not be allowed to let whole streets fall into disrepair while raking in housing benefit. Communities should have stronger powers to buy the properties and restore and regenerate them.

On business, we have to look at new models of shared ownership and profit-share schemes. And on finance, there is still work to do on setting up local credit unions, so that people can access financial services at the fairest price.

I said five years ago that, in order for co-operative ideals to flourish, we have to be louder and prouder of the achievements that we have already made, and bolder about what we can achieve in the future.

The same remains true today. I want your big ideas.

Because it is big ideas which will break Labour out of the Westminster bubble.

It is big ideas that will give this movement our pride back and get us off the floor. And that is the way we win again in 2020.

Yvette Cooper

Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper

(MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Shadow Home Secretary)

Labour has a long and proud tradition of working with the Co-operative Party and as leader I would want to build on and strengthen that bond. We have much to be proud of through our history, but as the workplace changes, as our communities become more divided and as the Tories’ spending plans stretch families to breaking point, the principles underpinning the co-operative movement are more relevant than ever. I applaud the hugely important work of Karin Christiansen in the last few years, particularly the efforts she has made to save and strengthen the link between our Parties. If we are to champion a new wave of cooperatives or mutuals, campaign for the end of child poverty in a generation or promote the growth of credit unions, we need to work together, more closely harnessing the widespread expertise and reach of the vibrant cooperative movement.

The next five years will be tough for so many people. In the Budget, we’ve seen the Tories put forward plans which will make people worse off in work, reduce work incentives, hit millions of working families, and mean thousands more children grow up in poverty. In the first quarter of this year, we’ve seen unemployment rise. And although the Tories crow about the jobs they have created since 2010, we know so many of them are short-term, insecure, zero hours jobs. As the Labour Party, we must stand for better than this. And the Co-operative Party must be at the heart of our 7 campaign for better working conditions with a bigger voice for employees in the strategic direction of companies and the spread of mutuals.

We achieved a huge amount together when we were in Government – bringing in the minimum wage and creating 2 million more jobs. We were successful in promoting employee share ownership, democracy at work and reducing red tape. And we worked hard to enhance our communities, providing social housing and leisure centres and pushing for more devolution and democratisation of our public services.

Now our struggle will be harder as much of our work is being dismantled by the Tories. So we need to put forward new plans – to create the new high tech jobs of the future, so Britain can lead the digital revolution; to restore our mission to end child poverty in a generation; to help every family get on with a revolution in childcare with universal free childcare; and a new relationship with business so we can build a strong economy, as well as a fairer society.

And neither Labour nor the Cooperative Party have ever believed our fight for social justice ends at our borders. Just as we have in the past, we need to use this period in opposition to call for action on trade – including ending slavery in our supply chains – removing the burden of remaining debt and ensuring we meet our obligations on overseas aid. We must also continue to fight to truly ‘make poverty history’ – both in and out of Government.

A strong Labour Party goes hand in hand with a vibrant Co-operative Party.

You can download the full candidate statements booklet, which includes those from the deputy leader candidates, at

In this article

Join the Conversation