Corbyn and co-operatives

What does the new Labour leader mean for the movement? On 12 September, Jeremy Corbyn was announced as the new leader of the Labour Party, and reaction from...

What does the new Labour leader mean for the movement?

On 12 September, Jeremy Corbyn was announced as the new leader of the Labour Party, and reaction from across the co-operative movement has been mixed.

While many have praised his commitment to fairness and equality, there is concern that his ‘divisive’ politics will cause problems for Labour in the future. On the announcement of the leadership result, several front benchers resigned, or stated that they would not work with Mr Corbyn unless he changed certain policies that were central in his campaign.  

One of those offering his resignation was Jonathan Reynolds, Labour Co-operative MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, who was willing to step down from his post as shadow minister for energy and climate change. “Jeremy has repeatedly stressed his desire to bring people together in order to beat the Tories and he’ll definitely have my support to do that,” he said. “He will want to pick his own frontbench team and I believe it is right for him to do so.”

He added: “A great deal of hyperbole has been written over the last four months, but in my view the Labour Party will neither split or be divided.”

Mr Reynolds was later offered a role in Mr Corbyn’s front bench, and will now serve as Labour’s shadow minister for transport, working under Lilian Greenwood MP.

He joins four other Labour Co-operative MPs in the shadow cabinet: Seema Malhotra (shadow chief secretary to the Treasury); Lucy Powell (shadow education secretary); Luciana Berger (shadow minister for mental health); and Jonathan Ashworth (shadow minister without portfolio).

Karin Christiansen, general secretary at the Co-operative Party said the party is looking forward to working with the new Labour leader to promote co-operative models and ideas. “Jeremy has been clear in the statement he provided to the Co-operative Party during the leadership election his support for co-operative policy solutions ranging from employee ownership, co-operative schools to co-operative housing,” she said.  

“It is clear that the values and in principles of the co-operative movement are very familiar to the new Labour leader. Based on these shared values I know our two Parties can be a powerful force championing a co-operative agenda.”

In his statement, Mr Corbyn said he wanted “the next Labour government in 2020 to work with [the Co-operative Party] so that we are driven by co-operative principles: self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.”

However, there are doubts from some co-operative quarters over Mr Corbyn’s ability to win an election by moving the Labour Party to the left.

“The main problem is that his economic policy positions lack credibility, and are not helped by appointing a hard line figure such as John McDonnell as shadow chancellor,” said Peter Hunt, chief executive of Mutuo. “This will unfortunately have a detrimental effect on any good ideas that the new leadership may also support.

“Jeremy is a very principled politician, but he has a track record of supporting state control rather than co-operatives. He has not in his many years in Parliament, participated personally in efforts to promote the co-operative sector, but we should of course be open to welcome any support that he can give now.”

Paul Monaghan, director of Up the Ethics, said that as well as a shift to the left, Jeremy Corbyn’s victory brings a deepening of Labour’s green credentials.

“Jeremy Corbyn has been widely reported as wanting to renationalise the Big Six energy suppliers, but a look at his detailed policy proposals indicate something much more nuanced – the major thrust is to enable new entrants to take greater market share in a more decentralised delivery system (based on the German model),” he said.

“Since May, the government has been on a manic mission to burn progressive (Lib-Dem inspired) green energy policy – but they have been careful to keep the door open (in words at least) to a continuation of community energy expansion.”

Mr Monaghan also believes that Mr Corbyn’s election will encourage the advancement of ‘fair tax’, and the Fair Tax Mark which was pioneered by Midcounties Co-operative, Unity Trust Bank and the Phone Co-op.

“Jeremy and John McDonnell were amongst the first to sign Caroline Lucas’ Early Day Motion last year welcoming the emergence of the Fair Tax Mark and the leadership of co-operatives and social enterprises,” he said.

However Peter Hunt remains concerned. “We should remember that any policy support for co-operatives will have little effect if he cannot ever put them into action by becoming Prime Minister,” he said. “Only a broad, consensual approach which attracts people from the centre of politics will achieve this.”


Jeremy Corbyn’s co-operative agenda:

On housing:
“Instead of giving tenants in housing association property the right to buy, we should look at giving tenants greater power over the decisions their landlords take – including for instance through co-operative models of local management that can empower tenants.”

On transport:
“All parts of the railway should work together for the common good – with strategic management representing the industry, government (local and national), passengers and workers. A more co-operative model of public ownership. By re-integrating the UK railways and running them co-operatively for the public good, we can bring social, economic and environmental gains.”

On the economy:
“[We need] public investment in new publicly-owned infrastructure so that a future chancellor can deliver a sound economy, not just sound-bites.”

On energy:
“My over-arching commitment will be for Britain to take the lead in developing the clean Energy Economy of the future. I would establish an Energy Commission to draft a fundamental shift in UK energy thinking. The Commission will be charged with bringing new partners into energy policy making. These will include local authorities, communities, energy co-operatives, and ‘smart’ technology companies that are already working on tomorrow’s ‘virtual’ power systems and new energy thinking.”


  • How do you think Jeremy Corbyn will affect co-operatives? Let us know below, by email to [email protected] or by post to Holyoake House, Hanover Street, Manchester, M60 0AS.
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