Labour and Co-operative councillors have guided and helped our communities deal with the unimaginable this year – from setting up mutual aid groups, to helping in food banks, to helping implement new ways of going about daily life in our communities. The Co-operative Party’s local government conference this weekend offers a rare chance to reflect on the past year and most importantly look ahead to what happens next.
One of the highlights will be Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds MP launching a new partnership between the Co-operative Party and the shadow Treasury team to understand the impact of Covid-19 on the co-operative sector, and to look at how the co-operative movement and its values can help shape our economic recovery.
We can learn from the very best of our movement during this period and establish a new way of doing politics that can last far beyond the coronavirus crisis. Over the next six months, the shadow Treasury team will be meeting and listening to every part of our movement as part of a Co-operative Recovery Partnership.
Things don’t have to go back to the way they were. In fact, they can’t. The economic inequalities that already underpinned our country have been brought further into plain sight – access to good housing, food and job security have all been exposed as lacking by this crisis, and the government is flailing in its plan to address these. The status quo simply won’t wash.
The Co-operative Recovery Partnership will help develop what a Labour and Co-operative government will mean for Britain and how it can deliver a country that works for everyone. It’s no surprise that this year’s Christmas adverts all promote a sense of family, community and kindness; it’s what we expect from our businesses, too, and it is no surprise that co-operatives, working in partnership with their employees and customers, are best to lead on this. We need to explore how we can promote purposeful, responsible businesses right across the country, and use the power of community and government – at a local and national level – to embed the fairness that people are crying out for.
Our conference meets in the middle of the second lockdown in England, and our movement has once again been at the forefront of practical action. As well as hearing from the Shadow Chancellor, conference will hear about co-operative support groups, baby banks and the full range of community effort. Just as co-operators more than a hundred years ago stepped up to help each other in the absence of government action, we find ourselves rediscovering that local activism, providing an essential lifeline to our residents when national systems have failed.
After months of upheaval, we move next year into important elections in 2021. It will be the first national electoral test since the general election, with elections to the Welsh and Scottish parliaments, over 4,000 council seats contested all over England, alongside multiple mayoral elections. More than half of Labour’s police and crime commissioner candidates in England and Wales will be standing as Labour and Co-operative, as well as all 14 constituency candidates for the London Assembly. It’s important that we take our experiences of the last few months, of local action, and start to carve out our vision of what local leadership looks like next year.
The conference is hearing from members of Labour’s frontbench, such as Steve Reed MP and chair of the Parliamentary Co-op Party Preet Kaur Gill MP, councillors Susan Brown, Nick Forbes, Arooj Shah and Dan Thorpe among others, plus organisations including the Rio Ferdinand Foundation and Co-operative Councils Innovation Network.
Our presence in local government provides a first line of interaction with Labour for many people across the country, and the innovative solutions we pioneer there show the potential for change we can offer in government at a national level. The greater a showing we make in local and devolved government at next year’s elections, the more strongly we can make our case to the country.
The Co-operative Party’s local government conference is taking place online at party.coop/local2020 from 10am to 5pm.