Co-operative ideas, principles and values have found a welcome home here in Wales and we’re lucky enough to still have Labour and Co-operative ministers putting our policies into practice.
The Lib Dem and Tory UK government speaks of a ‘Big Society’ in which communities are left to fend for themselves without the support of the state.
The ‘Big Society’ is the warm, PR friendly phrase conjured up by spin doctors at Tory Central Office to plaster over the gaping cracks in this government’s policies and budgets.Rather than support, as co-operatives do, the establishment, growth and expansion of social enterprise the Conservative’s and Lib Dem’s “Big Society” sees itself as an alternative to government.
If we scratch beneath the surface of the Big Society we’ll see it for what it really is. A Big Con.
It is a Big Con on our communities, a Big Con on our public services and a Big Con on the British people. It is also a Big Con on Lib Dem MPs who have swallowed the Tory mantra hook, line and sinker.
The so-called ‘Big Society’ does not promote co-operative values. It promotes the same old ideology much loved by the Tory party of old. It promotes individualism not collectivism and it takes no account of the widely differing needs and abilities of diverse communities.
Long before the credit crunch, before the effects of the global economic downturn were truly known, the Tories dreamt of cutting public spending. Slashing the support built by Labour to address the social and economic problems faced by communities throughout the UK.
The global economic crisis gave the Tories – and now the Lib Dems – cover to inflict their ideology upon communities many of whom were sorely let down by previous Conservative governments and are now being let down by the cabal of Tory and Lib Dems.
As a life-long co-operator I welcome any conversion to our cause – however late in the day.
But the apparent conversation to co-operative values by David Cameron’s Conservatives – and Nick Clegg’s Liberals – is nothing more than political expediency. Cynical, calculated and deeply dishonest.
In a climate of deep and savage cuts to our public services it suits the Tories and their Lib Dem cheerleaders to dress their cuts in the clothes of co-operation and mutualism.
We should not be taken in by their soft words or cuddly phrases. The only party who share co-operative values is the Labour Party.
Co-operative values helped to shape the Labour Party and the wider labour movement and the two are, for me, inextricably linked.
Co-op values led the previous UK Labour government to help communities establish co-op pubs. Communities where quite often the only focal point is the village pub were given a lifeline to keep this vital resource open. Shamefully, the Tories and Liberals have ditched the scheme and called time on the help offered by Labour.
The Tories claim to be the party of enterprise. Selling off our national assets isn’t creating enterprise. Slashing funding for research and development isn’t creating enterprise.
Co-operatives help create hundreds of new jobs in Wales and can cut across almost all aspects of our lives.
From the food on our plates to the energy we use; the way we bank to our telecommunication needs; the way our sporting clubs are managed to the homes we live in co-operatives are playing an increasing and pivotal role.
Yes, we all face hard times ahead. Spending cuts are likely to deepen, the tragedy of unemployment is set to soar and the withdrawal of government as a force for progressive politics in our country is a certainty.
But I am not disheartened. Our achievements as a co-operative movement, often in the harshest, hardest economic climates show that we can change the world. Indeed we have changed the world and for our vision of equality and social justice to take permanent root, we must continue to strive to change our environment for the better – in good times and bad.
Under Labour, Wales has truly embraced co-operative values.
From the Credit Union loan that allows a mother to buy school books for her children, the football club that is owned by its loyal supporters – not rich businessmen intent on using a community’s sporting heritage as a personal pastime.
To the decent wage being paid to coffee growers in the developing world, and the children being released from the servitude of fields and factories and sent to school – and a bank which refuses to make money out of arms and slavery.
These co-operative ideals, which have shaped our communities and our country for generations, are now finding new favour due to the uncertain times we live in.
Next May, Wales will elect a new government in the National Assembly against the united forces of the Lib Dems and Conservatives and their coalition of cuts.
Labour and the Co-operative Party, as the true progressive force in Welsh and British politics, stands as the only alternative to the dishonest and damaging excesses of the UK government.
We in the Co-operative Party have always been the radicals in the Labour Movement, not because we’re further to the left, or further to the right, than our colleagues, but because we have an eye not just for ideology, but for what works.
That’s why I am proud to launch A Co-operative Agenda for Wales – our manifesto for the 2011 Assembly elections.
Our slogan as a Party is ‘politics for people’. The policies outlined in our manifesto are just that. They are a radical, socially just vision for Wales that I believe will capture and ignite the imagination of people across the country.
Policies that complement our communities, not work against them. Policies that reflect our trust in people, not scepticism of their abilities.
And policies that, by working with a Labour government in Wales, are deliverable and, most importantly, will improve the lives of our friends, family and neighbours.
A Co-operative Agenda for Wales reflects our shared beliefs that society works best when we all work together for the common good. When our worth to society is reflected in the support we receive.
Wales has a unique opportunity to lead the country in a truly new type of politics – based on mutualism and co-operative ideals and I wholeheartedly commend them to you and the people of Wales.