By Andrew Pakes
Politics is pretty tough at the moment. On the doorstep, in the workplace and at community events, people are worried about the economy and concerned about its impact on their family. And that has a knock-on effect for progressive politics.
I was selected as the Labour & Co-operative Parliamentary Candidate for my home town of Milton Keynes in December 2006 before the scale of the down-turn was known. Even before the recession, the Co-op provided a positive starting point for any conversation whilst canvassing or at coffee mornings. This year, the MK Dons stadium was even home to an International Co-operatives Day event that attracted over 200 people, organised by our local Co-operative Group.
I was a Co-op baby: clothed, fed, holidayed and insured. I remember visits to Santa’s Co-op grotto on the High Street each Christmas just as well as I remember my mother’s share number. In my hometown, the Co-op even ran the chip shop, at least for a while.
What do these memories mean for politics today?
For a start, behind every Co-op store, bank account, credit union there is a history of progressive political change. In its founding days, the Co-op grew from working people determined to fight against fixed prices, big business and retail cartels. Today, it is the credit union movement that is fighting to bring sensible, accessible lending and saving to families excluded by the big banks.
Secondly, it also provides a positive platform to help rebuild the fractured nature of our politics and economy. The Feeling’s Mutual campaign recently launched by the Co-operative Party is a good example. The campaign seeks to stem the tide of one of the Tories’ worst pieces of legislation and return Northern Rock to the mutual sector. Remember, it was the Tories that brought in legislation to demutualise building societies and promoted the deregulation that led to the Wild West capitalism that is now in the doldrums.
According to the famed US Senator, Tip O’Neill, all politics is local. As one of a group of Labour & Co-op Parliamentary candidates it is at a local level that co-operative ideas make most sense. Faced by the immense nature of the global downturn, co-operative ideas offer people answers closer to home, whether it is better informed consumer choices and fair trade, a banking system owned by its borrowers and savers or new mutual home ownership to help tackle the housing crisis.
The Co-op Party has always been a proud part of the wider Labour family, putting mutual ideas and decentralised forms of ownership at the heart of its political message. Since 1997, we have had the biggest Co-operative Parliamentary Group ever, with Labour & Co-operative MPs including Ed Balls, Sarah McCarthy-Fry and Gareth Thomas.
The Co-operative bond is much greater than the formal link to my constituency Labour Party. In my part of Milton Keynes, the Co-op brings together the sense of achievement for past victories and a renewed sense of political purpose. Locally, the Co-op has its origins in the old railworks and early struggle for progressive rights. Today, we have a Credit Union, housing co-operatives and a new transition town providing ideas, advice and support to the same communities. In this spirit, the Co-op link gives me a greater sense of purpose and a positive message to talk about.
The public are much more cynical of politicians following the expenses scandal and impact of the recession. And rightly so. The Labour Party really has a lot to gain from a closer look at the co-operative agenda and better understanding of its historic links to the Co-op Party. In facing the electoral challenges ahead, perhaps it is time we all looked back to the future.
Want to be a Labour & Co-operative PPC like Andrew? The Co-operative Party’s Parliamentary Panel is now open until the end of October. For an application form, please go to www.party.coop. To further discuss this opportunity, please get in contact with Alex Baker, Parliamentary Officer, on 020 7367 4153 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.