Labour leader candidates discuss co-operation

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry have issued statements on their co-op positions

As members of the Labour party prepare to elect a new leader and deputy leader, candidates for both positions have issued statements on why co-operators should support them. 

The Co-operative Party has had an electoral pact with the Labour Party since 1927, with those selected by both parties contesting elections as Labour and Co-operative Party candidates. Currently, there are  26 Labour and Co-operative Party MPs in Westminster, 7 in the Scottish Parliament and 11 in the Welsh Assembly. There are also 1,500 Labour and Co-operative Councillors across the UK. Constituency parties and affiliate organisations can nominate their preferred candidate until 14 February; voting in the membership ballot opens on 21 February and closes at midday on 2 April. The result of the leadership election will be announced on 4 April.

The Co-operative Party will be hosting the next Labour Leadership and Deputy Leadership hustings, in London on Sunday 16 February. Ahead of the hustings, candidates for leader (Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry) and deputy leader (Rosena Allin-Khan, Richard Burgon, Dawn Butler, Ian Murray and Angela Rayner) each submitted statements outlining why they believe co-operators should support their candidacy.

Rebecca Long-Bailey believes that the co-operative movement “has a key role to play within the more democratic economy Labour is trying to build,” alongside democratic public ownership of utilities and public services, expanded rights and powers for trade unions and worker ownership.

She sees co-ops as “a powerful tool to extend democratic decision making” and the co-operative movement as both central to the history of the labour movement and an asset to the UK’s economy, workforce and wider society. But she acknowledges that the country “lags behind” most other advanced economies. “And that means we’re losing out.”

Lisa Nandy thinks that the co-operative movement and party “have many of the answers that Labour needs to help people shape and humanise the future economy”. She adds: “We need a renaissance in co-operative solutions as well as support to scale up the successes we already have.”

She says she is standing to be the next leader of the Labour Party “to address deep-seated inequalities which are holding back individuals, communities and our country … To do this we need to redistribute power as well as wealth,” and she sees co-operatives as a tool to do this.

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Keir Starmer says that co-ops are key to building a fairer economy. “I believe that expanding common ownership, including through co-operatives, must be a key part of that,” he says. “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.”

Both he and Rebecca Long-Bailey mention support for Labour’s plans to double the size of the co-operative sector and the call for a new Co-operative Development Agency. “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,” he says.

Emily Thornberry draws on her personal experience. “I grew up in a Labour family, and I always thought I understood the meaning of ‘solidarity’ … but I only truly learned what solidarity meant years later, when I became a lawyer and went to represent striking miners in the mid-80s, and saw entire communities coming together to share what little they had with those who needed it most.

“For me, that kind of solidarity epitomises the Co-operative Party: the ethos that we’re all stronger together; but if any of us is suffering, we’re all suffering.”

Similar messages of solidarity came from the deputy leader candidates. Rosena Allin-Khan and Richard Burgon spoke of grassroots action, while Dawn Butler, Ian Murray and Angela Rayner all spoke of supporting the movement and gave examples of co-ops making a difference in their communities. “But pledges and policy aren’t enough,” said Ms Rayner. “You need a Deputy Leader who gets that a co-operative isn’t just a way of doing things, it’s core to who we are, and it runs through everything we do.”

For the candidates’ full statements, visit