‘Politics is about choices’: Co-op Party’s Preet Kaur Gill MP addresses Labour Conference

‘The Co-op Party has stood shoulder to shoulder with the Labour Party in the fight for fairness and equality’

Labour/Co-op MP Preet Kaur Gill has delivered a key speech on the opening day of the Labour Party conference, on behalf of the Co-operative Party. The Labour and Co-op Parties have been sister political organisations since 1927.

“Like all successful relationships, our partnership has endured because of shared values and goals,” said Ms Gill. “Today, [the Co-op Party] shares over 1,000 elected representatives with the Labour Party, with tens of thousands of members and supporters. We are growing fast, with huge ambitions for our movement and the communities we serve.”

Her inspiration to get into politics was her father, the late Daljit Singh Shergill, who came to Birmingham in the 1950s, where he worked in the Foundry and as a bus driver before becoming the president of the first Gurdwara in Smethwick. Growing up in recession-hit Birmingham in the 1980s, Ms Gill said she witnessed the power of community first-hand.

“I saw how my father unionised the ethnic minority workers at his factory, to stop them from having their pay packets stolen by other workers. I watched him set up the first domestic abuse service of its kind, and establish the first food bank in Smethwick. Our home became a one-stop-shop for anyone who needed support … Building resilience and power in our communities is what my father did and is what we, as co-operators, do, day in day out.”

Ms Gill, who represents Birmingham Edgbaston, is the first female Sikh MP. She is shadow secretary for International Development and chairs the Co-operative Party Parliamentary Group.

In her speech, she described the “rich and beautiful history” of the co-operative movement, highlighting the breadth and scope of the three million co-ops worldwide. 

“The beauty of the co-op model is simple,” she told delegates. “By existing to provide a service for their members rather than generate profits for shareholders, co-operative and mutual enterprises realise the ideal of a fairer and more inclusive economy that devolves power to people and puts their needs at its heart … At a time when more than half of UK company equity is owned abroad and only just over 12% by individuals, the co-operative model offers something different.”

Ms Gill gave examples of how co-operatives and their workers have been right on the frontline, keeping shelves stacked, providing education and critical end of life care, and reiterated the Labour and Co-op Parties’ commitment to doubling the size of the co-operative sector.

“This will create a fairer economy which spreads ownership, embeds sustainability, creates good, secure jobs and protects the environment,” she said. 

The Co-op Party has stood shoulder to shoulder with the Labour Party in the fight for fairness and equality, and while we are proud of our different traditions, we are clear about our shared ambitions.”

These ambitions include tackling modern slavery in supply chains, fighting for food justice and securing legal protections for shopworkers (which has been achieved in Scotland). The Co-op Party has also joined with Labour on campaigns to cancel the cut to universal credit, provide free school meals to thousands of children in need, and fight against cuts to overseas aid, among others.

Related … Fairtrade future: How do we deliver for producer co-ops? Interview with Preet Kaur Gill MP

“Politics is about choices, and the Conservatives have shown whose side they are on,” Ms Gill added. “But as [Co-op Party] general secretary Joe Fortune has said, at times of crisis this past 18 months, the British people responded not with division, but with co-operation.

“Soon we will celebrate a hundred years of partnership with the Labour Party. We are determined to celebrate that milestone during the first term of a Labour and Co-operative Government under Keir Starmer. We look forward to working together to achieve that aim.”