Meet … Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Co-op Party

‘It is right for us to be inspired by our history, but we must be a group of people obsessed with what is coming up in the future’

Joe Fortune graduated in politics and parliamentary studies at Leeds before joining the secretariat of the All Party Parliamentary Rail Group. He went on to work in public affairs, specialising in transport and infrastructure, before joining the Co-op Party in 2009. Before his appointment as general secretary he served as the Party’s national political and policy manager.

What drew you to the co-op movement and the Co-op Party? 

I always had an appreciation of the work of the movement through my own political activism. While I was working within the rail industry, I was asked to join the Party by a fellow Party member. I held the rail industry model in low esteem and knew that co-op values, principles and models could easily be inserted and make a real difference to the service. So, outside of my role in the rail industry, I worked with Party officers to look at ways to develop co-op rail models and campaigns. Following this work, I applied for an advertised role at the Party and it all went from there.     

Could you tell us about your role at the Party?

I have held three main roles at the Co-operative Party. I started working for the Party in 2009 as the parliamentary officer, became the national political and policy manager in 2016 and then general secretary in 2019. As general secretary I get to work with a great team of staff, activists, officers and elected representatives right across the country to promote and defend the UK co-operative movement and to ensure there are co-operators at all levels of decision making.  

What are you most proud of during your time at the Party?

I firmly believe our collective best days are ahead of us. However, looking back there are a huge amount, of days, projects, changes, results and moments that I am proud that we have delivered. To be honest, too many to list. Overall, I am proud about the transformation the Party has undergone and the journey we are on. We have developed in a wide range of areas and are continually improving. While we continue to grow and provide great service to the co-operative movement, I will continue to be proud. 

How can we give co-op values a higher profile, inside and outside of politics? 

We all need to grow. We all need to grow our co-operative impact. We all have a firm conviction that the greater proliferation of our values and principles will benefit our family, friends and communities. However, we need to be sharp about how to go about turning that conviction in to meaningful action. 

Of course, it is not good enough that education levels in relation to co-ops and the co-operative movement is so low. We must do all we can to address this. We must also collectively push to create a system where we are not an add on, too often overlooked and disadvantaged at source. It is also not good enough that there are so few avenues for co-operative development to happen for those who do wish to be the latest co-operators – in my view this requires serious action by decision makers and the movement. 

However, fundamentally we must pull many more to our causes, campaigns and co-operative values and principles. We must be able to demonstrate our collective relevance to a broader number. I know we can do this and I have seen the evidence in the last few years across the movement. It is right for us to be inspired by our history and preserve it, but we must be a group of people obsessed with what is coming up in the future. Through these endeavours, our co-op profile will be raised and the benefits we bring more
generally felt.  

What areas would you like the Party to focus on next? 

I want the Party to continue to have a strong focus on the wants and needs of our individual, organisational members and the wider movement. I want us to retain a strong campaigning voice which turns its attention to fundamental injustices in communities across the country which would benefit from co-operative action. I also want to ensure the Party stays relevant as the country picks a way forward post pandemics. There is always an opportunity for real change post events such as the ones we have just lived through, we will work hard to influence those around us that it is our solutions and way of being which are where the future is.  

Really, specifically, I know we will be continuing to fight for food justice and the end to retail worker violence as well as focusing on a community revolution of the high street and co-operative work within social care. There will also be important work to do in the fields of equalities, skills and jobs and climate change. I am looking forward to it all.