Keir Starmer elected Labour leader, Angela Rayner deputy

What is the pair’s stance on co-ops and co-operation?

When Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner stood for leadership positions within the Labour Party, little did they know their victory announcement would be delivered by email to journalists and their speeches presented remotely. Both candidates have strong affiliations with co-operation, and while the world context is changing daily, what are their opinions on co-operatives and the role of co-operation in the future?

In his victory address, Sir Keir highlighted how coronavirus has brought normal life to a halt. “Our cities, our towns and our villages are silent, our roads deserted. Public life has all but come to a standstill and we’re missing each other,” he said. “People are frightened by the strangeness, anxious about what will happen next… It reminds us of what really matters, our family, our friends, our relationships. The love we have for one another. Our health. Our connections with those that we don’t know.

“A greeting from a stranger, a kind word from a neighbour. These make up society. They remind us that we share our lives together. We have to trust one another and look after one another … Our willingness to come together like this as a nation has been lying dormant for too long. But when we do get through this we cannot go back to business as usual. This virus has exposed the fragility of our society. It’s lifted a curtain.”

Ahead of this election, all candidates gave a statement to the Co-op Party, outlining their thoughts on co-operation. Sir Keir, a former barrister who has served as MP for Holborn and St Pancras since 2015, spoke of how the Labour and Co-operative Parties have “stood arm in arm for almost 100 years in our common endeavour to build a fairer society, where power, wealth and opportunity are shared more equally”. He committed to ensuring the partnership “continues to flourish, especially as we develop policy on expanding the co-operative sector”.

He added: “We need to build a fairer economy. I believe that expanding common ownership, including through co-operatives, must be a key part of that. We know that broadening ownership creates more productive workforces, reduces internal wage inequalities and puts workers or the community in charge of decisions over investment and strategy. It is socialism in action … I want to see a fundamental change in the way our economy works so that it is more democratic, more equal and based on the principles of co-operativism and solidarity.”

Congratulating Sir Keir and Angela Rayner, Co-op Party general secretary, Joe Fortune, called the pair “two great friends of the Co-op Party and co-operative movement”, and shared a clip of Sir Keir’s speech at the Co-op Party Conference in October 2019 where he spoke of the role of co-operatives in a “transformative agenda and a radical programme for change”.

“Working people need a proper stake in their workplace and their communities,” he said.

Angela Rayner, who has been MP for Ashton-under-Lyne since 2015, has spoken previously about how the “current economic model takes wealth away from the people who create it and denies working people the chance to thrive”, and has called for a new economic settlement which values work, contribution and community.

“Our future can be inspired by our history, built on the foundations laid in 1844 by the Pioneers, not too far from me in Rochdale. The Co-operative is more than just a movement of its own, it’s part of who we are,” she said. 

“I’m proud to be a co-operator, but I recognise many people don’t realise the full potential a co-operative moment can realise. I want to shout from the rooftops that our top five ethical and rooted co-operatives together paid more tax than Amazon, E-On, Facebook, Starbucks and Vodafone combined. This approach rewards those whose hard work created the wealth, and funds decent public services, like our NHS.”

She acknowledged “words aren’t enough,” and that there was a need to “showcase co-operatives as a form of everyday socialism, making our values real in people’s normal lives and demonstrating we have practical solutions to the problems they face.”

In her acceptance speech, Ms Rayner confirmed that she was recovering from coronavirus. “I never expected to accept the deputy leadership of the Labour Party filming on my mobile phone while confined to my house. But we are in extraordinary times,” she said, acknowledging that she was one of the lucky ones.

She added: “Things have dramatically changed in our country, but our values remain the same, and it’s more important now than ever [that we] reflect those values, standing up for public services and for a society in which people work together and look after one another.”