Labour and Co-operative parties welcome general election announcement

The UK will head to the polls on 4 July

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak has announced a general election on 4 July 2024, defying opinion polls which remain heavily set against the Conservatives.

It had been expected that Sunak would leave the election until late autumn, but said in his announcement outside a rainswept Downing Street that he hopes his record “shows that we have a plan and are prepared to take bold action necessary for our country to flourish”.

“I recognise that it has not always been easy,” he said. “The question now is how, and who do you trust, to turn that foundation into a secure future for you, your family and our country? Now is the moment for Britain to choose its future. To decide whether we want to build on the progress we have made or risk going back to square one with no plan and no certainty.”

And he took a swipe at the Labour Party, saying: “I don’t know what they offer. And in truth, I don’t think you know either. And that’s because they have no plan. There is no bold action. And as a result, the future can only be uncertain with them.”

But Labour leader Keir Starmer, in a public address, said the announcement was “a moment the country needs – and has been waiting for. And where, by the force of our democracy, power returns to you.”

His campaign would be one of change, he said, “with a new spirit of service [that puts country first, party second”.

Starmer added: “After 14 years under the Tories, nothing seems to work any more. Public services crumbling, ambulances that don’t come, families weighed down by higher mortgage rates, antisocial behaviour on our high streets. The list goes on and on.”

Sunak’s announcement welcomed by leaders of all parties, including the Co-operative Party, the independent political party which has had an electoral pact with Labour since 1927; the parties agree not to stand candidates against each other, and candidates selected by members of both parties contest elections using the description Labour & Co-operative.

There are currently 25 Labour & Co-operative MPs in Parliament, including six in Labour’s shadow cabinet and 11 shadow ministers. The party has 42 prospective parliamentary candidates for the 2024 general election.

The two parties have been buoyed by the recent local elections, which saw the mayoral post of the West Midlands Combined Authority switch from the Conservatives’ Andy Street to Labour / Co-op Richard Parker. The Co-op Party now has more than 900 councillors across the UK.

“[Our] candidates and members have been putting in the work and speaking to voters on the doorstep up and down the country,” said Co-op Party general secretary, Joe Fortune after Sunak’s announcement, adding the Party will be “putting all our energy into showing the country what a Labour & Co-operative government can achieve”.

“A Labour & Co-operative government will build a fairer economy, where wealth and power are shared [and] we will make the biggest ever investment in community-owned renewable energy, generating power and profit for local communities. We will end a decade of decline on our high streets by building local ownership and making our communities safer. 

“And of course – we will grow the co-operative sector, giving workers a real say and stake in their workplaces.”

In 2016, then shadow chancellor John McDonnell said “the next Labour government will look to at least double the size of the co-operative economy. That’s a £40bn boost.” This commitment has been maintained by Labour, most recently re-iterated by Fortune at the Co-op Retail Conference in February. 

“We fundamentally believe in what we’re doing, so why don’t we want to see a rapid and huge expansion of [the co-op economy]?,” he said at the event.

“We are moving to a place of opportunity [and] we have a responsibility, I believe, on behalf of the co-op movement to have a real go and take these opportunities, because they don’t come up too often.”

These opportunities involve collaboration, he added. “It is by working hand in glove that we make mobilisation happen.”

It remains to be seen how strongly co-operatives will feature in election manifestos from across the political spectrum.

Co-operatives UK CEO, Rose Marley, said “the gauntlet has been thrown down for a new government” and that the country needs “an administration that will face up to the unprecedented – globally, nationally and locally”.

She added: “As parties begin their campaigns, and the country goes into election fever, Co-operatives UK urges the next government to improve ways to co-operate and unleash the power of working together to fix our biggest problems in society.

“Co-ops produce greater productivity, better conditions for workers, better outcomes for consumers and less impact on our environment. And co-operatives large and small already contribute over £40bn to the UK economy on an annual basis.”

Marley said Co-operatives UK will be “calling on those who are trying to earn our votes to unleash the power of co-operation to fix our biggest problems” by making it easier to start and run co-operatives; allowing co-ops to grow and expand by raising capital from investors; letting co-operatives fix broken systems including social care, energy and housing; and supporting communities, workers and entrepreneurs to realise their aspirations by bidding for assets they care about.