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The Co-operative Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom supporting co-operative values and principles. Established in 1917, the Co-operative Party was founded by co-operative societies to campaign politically for the fairer treatment of co-operative enterprise and to elect 'co-operators' to Parliament. The party’s roots lie in the Parliamentary Committee of the Co-operative Union established in 1881.

The Co-operative Party
ChairpersonAnna Turley
General SecretaryClaire McCarthy
Founded17 October 1917 (1917-10-17)
Headquarters65 St John Street
London, EC1M 4AN
Youth wingCo-operative Party Youth
Membership (2017)Increase 11,021[1]
Social democracy
Political positionCentre-left
National affiliationLabour and Co-operative Party
House of Commons
33 / 650
House of Lords
14 / 778
London Assembly
7 / 25
Local Councillors
1,500 / 20,565
Police & Crime Commissioners
1 / 41
Scottish Parliament
7 / 129
National Assembly for Wales
11 / 60
Northern Ireland Assembly
0 / 90

Since 1927, the Co-operative Party has had an electoral pact with the Labour Party, with both parties agreeing not to stand candidates against each other. Instead, candidates selected by members of both parties contest elections using the description of Labour and Co-operative Party.[2] The Co-operative Party is a legally separate entity from the Labour Party, and is registered as a political party with the Electoral Commission.[3] Co-operative Party members are not permitted to be members of any other political party in the UK apart from the Labour Party or Northern Ireland's Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).

The Co-operative Party is arguably the fourth-largest party in the House of Commons with 33 Members of Parliament, although as all of its MPs sit in the Parliamentary Labour Party, this distinction is seldom made. It also has representatives in the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the London Assembly and local government.

In keeping with its co-operative values and principles, the Co-operative Party does not have a leader. Instead Anna Turley serves as Chair of the National Executive Committee, Claire McCarthy as General Secretary, and Jim McMahon as Chair of the Co-operative Party Group of Parliamentarians.



The Co-operative Party was formed in 1917 after being approved by the May Congress of the British co-operative movement held in Swansea.[4][5] Since an electoral pact established in 1927, the party has stood joint candidates with the Labour Party.[6] In 1938, a written constitution was adopted by the Co-operative Party which formalised links between the two parties, and in 1946 Co-operative candidates first stood in elections under the Labour Co-operative banner.[4][7]

In its formative years the Co-operative Party was almost exclusively concerned with the trading and commercial problems of the co-operative movement. Since the 1930s, it has widened its emphasis, using influence gained through strong links with the political and commercial left to spread what it sees as co-operative ethos and moral principles. The basic principles underpinning the party are to seek recognition for co-operative enterprises, recognition for the social economy, and to advance support for co-operatives and co-operation across Europe and the developing world. The party stands for a sustainable economy and society, a culture of citizenship and socially responsible business represented by the practice of retail and industrial co-operatives. The Co-operative Party seeks to advance its agenda through the Parliamentary Labour Party, with whom it shares common values.

Joint Parliamentary CommitteeEdit

The Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up in 1881 by The Co-operative Union. It was primarily a watchdog on parliamentary activities. Issues and legislation could be raised in the House of Commons only by lobbying sympathetic, usually Labour, MPs. As it was somewhat unsatisfactory to have to lobby MPs on each individual issue, motions were passed at the Co-operative Union Annual Congress urging direct parliamentary representation. However, for much of this early period societies would not commit funds.

First World WarEdit

At the start of the war the many retail societies in the co-operative movement grew in both membership and trade, in part because of their very public anti-profiteering stance. When conscription was introduced and food and fuel supplies restricted, these societies began to suffer. The movement was under-represented on the various governmental distribution committees and draft tribunals. Co-operatives received minimal supplies and even management were often drafted, whereas business opponents were able to have even clerks declared vital for the war effort. Societies were also required to pay excess profits tax, although their co-operative nature meant they made no profits.

A motion was tabled at the 1917 Congress held in Swansea by the Joint Parliamentary Committee and 104 retail societies, calling for direct representation at national and local government levels. The motion was passed by 1979 votes to 201.[4]

Central Co-operative Parliamentary Representation CommitteeEdit

An Emergency Political Conference was held on 18 October 1917. As a result, the Central Co-operative Parliamentary Representation Committee was formed in 1917, with the objective of putting co-operators into the House of Commons. This was soon renamed the Co-operative Party. The first national secretary was Samuel Perry, later a Member of Parliament and the father of Fred Perry.[8]

At first the party put forward its own candidates. The first was H. J. May, later Secretary of the International Co-operative Alliance, who was unsuccessful at the January 1918 Prestwich by-election. Ten then stood in the 1918 general election.[4] One candidate met with success, Alfred Waterson, who became a Member of Parliament for the Kettering seat. Waterson took the Labour whip in Parliament. In 1919, 151 Co-operative Party councillors were elected at local level. Waterson retired from Parliament in 1922, but four new Co-operative MPs were elected that same year, including A.V. Alexander, all of whom took the Labour whip. Six were elected in 1923 and five in 1924.

However, since the 1927 Cheltenham Agreement, the party has had an electoral agreement with the Labour Party, which allows for a limited number of Labour Co-operative candidates. This means that the parties involved do not oppose each other. The agreement has been amended several times, most recently in 2003, which was made in the name of the Co-operative Party rather than the Co-operative Union. After the formal agreement, nine Labour Co-operative MPs were elected at the 1929 general election, and Alexander was made a cabinet minister. However, only one was returned at the 1931 election against the backdrop of a massive defeat for Labour.

Co-operative Party logo used until February 2019.

The rise of the sister partyEdit

Labour's recovery as a credible party of government during World War II and the formal links and local affiliations brought by the 1927 agreement saw benefits electorally for the Co-operative Party. In 1945, 23 Labour Co-operative MPs were elected and two held high office in the Labour government – Alexander and Alfred Barnes, who had been chair of the party.

But with Labour's fluctuating fortunes and the slow post-war decline of the co-operative movement, the party saw its influence and standing fall. By 1983, another nadir for Labour fortunes, only eight Labour Co-operative MPs were elected.

However, in 1997, all 23 candidates won seats in Parliament and, after Labour assumed power, the party gained its first members of the Cabinet since AV Alexander: Alun Michael 1998–99 (later First Minister for Wales) and Ed Balls 2007–2010. In 2001, only one candidate was defeated: Faye Tinnion, who had stood against the Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague.

Organisation and structureEdit

Local structureEdit

At a local level, members are allocated to a branch which includes one or more local authority areas. Branches are organised into autonomous 'society party councils', which normally includes one or more counties and are linked to a retail co-operative such as the Co-operative Group or Midcounties Co-operative.[9]

Branches and party councils organise the party's local activity including selecting candidates, campaigning and liaising with constituency Labour parties.

Funding and financeEdit

Most of the party's income comes from grants made by six of the largest retail co-operative societies and from members' fees. The Co-operative Group is a substantial funder of the party, but no funding is given by The Co-operative Bank since it split from the group in 2013.[10] Local retail societies provide most funding for local party councils, which form the basis of members contact with the party. The party recognises several structures which exist without society support (voluntary parties) as being part of the whole. Subscriptions from members also support the party financially.

In 2014, Midcounties Co-operative ended their subscription to the Co-operative Party, after research showed that eight out of nine shoppers were less likely to shop at a retailer with a political tie.[11] Midcounties Co-operative also cited the Rochdale Principles.[12]

In 2016, the Co-operative Group proposed reducing their funding by a quarter and consider funding other political parties.[13]


As a result of an electoral agreement with the Labour Party,[2] "Labour and Co-operative Party" candidates receive financial help with election expenses from the Co-operative Party, including funding parliamentary candidates. There are other Labour MPs who are Co-operative Party members but are not sponsored. One of these was Gareth Thomas MP, chair of the Co-operative Party between 2001 and 2019, and of the Co-operative Congress in 2003, who was invited to join the parliamentary group in 2003. Until the 1990s, the number of Labour Co-operative candidates was capped at 30. The party's capacity to support more than the previously agreed number is debatable as the prospects of non-sponsored members are not always unfavourable. The benefits of the agreement are twofold, Labour gaining candidates with lower election costs and the party gaining influence within a Labour movement.

The Co-operative Party has not registered a logo with the Electoral Commission for use on ballot papers. Following the passing of the Electoral Administration Act 2006, candidates standing under a joint description were unable to use any registered emblem.[14] The law was amended in 2013 to allow the use of an emblem by candidates standing jointly for two parties;[15] this allowed Labour and Co-operative Party candidates to use the registered Labour Party emblem in the 2015 general election.

Annual conferenceEdit

The party holds an annual conference with delegates elected by their local members by local parties and societies. The inaugural conference was held in 1920 in Methodist Central Hall Westminster and the first annual conference in Preston in 1924. The 2006 conference was held in Sheffield in September. The 2007 conference, marking 90 years, was held at Central Hall, Westminster. The 2010 Conference, held in Cardiff included a reception hosted at the Welsh Assembly Building, the Senedd, marking the launch of the Party's Manifesto for the 2011 Welsh Assembly Election. In 2014, the party's annual conference was held from 10–12 October at TUC Congress House in London.


The current General Secretary is Claire McCarthy, appointed in October 2015.[16]

McCarthy succeeded Karin Christiansen (appointed 2012) who had been the first female in the position. Previous General Secretaries include Michael Stephenson (from June 2008; a former adviser to Tony Blair),[17] Peter Hunt (from 1998), and Peter Clarke.

Chairs of the Co-operative PartyEdit

General Secretaries of the Co-operative PartyEdit

Electoral representationEdit

The modern party is the political arm of the wider British co-operative movement and membership of another co-operative enterprise is a requirement for candidates. Co-operative members who wish to stand for election must also be members of the Labour Party, and stand as Labour and Co-operative Party candidates.[2]

Electoral performanceEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Election Seats ± Government
1 / 707
  1 Coalition LiberalConservative
4 / 615
  3 Conservative
6 / 625
  2 Labour minority
5 / 615
  1 Conservative
9 / 615
  4 Labour minority
1 / 615
  8 National LabourConservativeLiberal
9 / 615
  8 ConservativeNational LabourLiberal National
23 / 640
  14 Labour
18 / 625
  5 Labour
16 / 625
  2 Conservative
19 / 630
  3 Conservative
16 / 630
  3 Conservative
19 / 630
  3 Labour
18 / 630
  1 Labour
15 / 630
  3 Conservative
14 / 635
  1 Labour minority
14 / 635
17 / 635
  3 Conservative
7 / 650
  10 Conservative
9 / 650
  2 Conservative
14 / 651
  5 Conservative
28 / 659
  14 Labour
30 / 659
  2 Labour
29 / 646
  1 Labour
28 / 650
  1 ConservativeLib Dem
24 / 650
  4 Conservative
38 / 650
  12 Conservative minority

House of CommonsEdit

There are 33 Labour and Co-operative MPs in the House of Commons:[18]

Four Co-operative Party MPs – Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree), Mike Gapes (Ilford South), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) and Gavin Shuker (Luton South) – announced their resignations from the Labour and Co-operative Parties on 18 February 2019, to form The Independent Group.[19]

House of LordsEdit

There are fourteen Labour and Co-operative peers in the House of Lords:[20]

Lord McFall of Alcluith currently sits as a non-affiliated peer following his appointment as Senior Deputy Speaker.

National Assembly for WalesEdit

There are eleven Labour and Co-operative AMs in the National Assembly for Wales:[21]

Scottish ParliamentEdit

There are seven Labour and Co-operative MSPs in the Scottish Parliament:[22]

Ken Macintosh (MSP for West of Scotland) currently sits as an independent following his appointment as presiding officer.

London AssemblyEdit

There are seven Labour and Co-operative AMs in the London Assembly:[23]

Police and Crime CommissionersEdit

Alun Michael is the current police and crime commissioner for South Wales.[24]

Northern Ireland AssemblyEdit

The Co-operative party is affiliated with the Labour Party in Northern Ireland. Labour and SDLP members are permitted to join the party,[25] but it does not currently have any representation in the Northern Ireland Assembly.


There are three elected Labour and Co-operative mayors:

There are two elected Labour and Co-operative metro mayors:

Local governmentEdit

The Co-operative Party is represented in all tiers of local government by local councillors who stand as Labour and Co-operative. There are over 700 Labour and Co-operative Councillors across England, Scotland and Wales. In London, there are 271 Labour and Co-operative councillors and Greenwich has the highest number in the capital with 39 councillors.[31]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Co-operative Party Annual Report 2017. The Co-operative Party. 2017. p. 3.
  2. ^ a b c "National Agreement between the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party (2003)" (PDF).
  3. ^ "Overview of donations and loans reported in 2013". Donations and loans to political parties. The Electoral Commission.
  4. ^ a b c d James C. Docherty; Peter Lamb (2006). Historical Dictionary of Socialism. Scarecrow Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-8108-6477-1.
  5. ^ Arthur Birnie (2013). An Economic History of the British Isles. Routledge. p. 367. ISBN 978-1-136-58979-9.
  6. ^ David Marsh (2013). The Changing Social Structure of England and Wales. Taylor & Francis. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-136-24163-5.
  7. ^ Simon Hall (1999). The Hutchinson Illustrated Encyclopedia of British History. Taylor & Francis. p. 90. ISBN 978-1-57958-107-7.
  8. ^ Rosen, Greg (2007). "Serving the People: Co-operative Party History from Fred Perry to Gordon Brown". Co-operative Party. ISBN 978-0-9549161-4-5.
  9. ^ "Rules for a Society Party Council" (PDF). The Co-operative Party. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  10. ^ "Co-op Group to continue funding political parties". BBC News. 16 May 2015.
  11. ^ Treanor, Jill (7 July 2014). "Midcounties ends Co-operative Party subscription to attract shoppers". The Guardian.
  12. ^ Gray, Patrick (7 July 2014). "How to save the co-operative movement". The Guardian.
  13. ^ Butler, Sarah (25 April 2015). "Co-op proposes to cut political donations by a quarter". The Guardian.
  14. ^ "City Council Candidates condemn electoral mix-up". The Cambridge Student Online. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
  15. ^ "Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 Part 2 Section 20". Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. London. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  16. ^ Gareth Thomas (22 October 2015). "Claire McCarthy appointed General Secretary". Co-operative Party. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  17. ^ "Michael Stephenson is new General Secretary". Co-operative Party. 5 June 2008.
  18. ^ "Members of Parliament".
  19. ^ Hadfield, Miles (18 February 2019). "Four Co-op Party MPs quit the Labour Party as part of breakaway group". Co-operative News. Co-operative Press. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  20. ^ "Members of the House of Lords".
  21. ^ "Members of the Welsh Assembly".
  22. ^ "Members of the Scottish Assembly".
  23. ^ "Members of the London Assembly".
  24. ^ "Alun Michael".
  25. ^ "Northern Ireland".
  26. ^ "Lewisham Mayoral Election Results" (PDF). 2018.
  27. ^ Modern. gov on Behalf of London Borough of Newham, Newham Dockside (3 May 2018). "Election results for Newham, 3 May 2018". Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  28. ^ "Mayor of Hackney election 2018 | Hackney Council". Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  29. ^ Rogerson, David. "GMCA Mayoral election results". Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  30. ^ "Mayoral Election Results - Sheffield City Region". SCR. 4 May 2018. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  31. ^ "Record number of Co-operative Councillors elected". The Co-operative Party. Retrieved 6 September 2018.

Further readingEdit

  • Consumers in politics, a history and general review of the Co-operative Party (1969), Thomas F. Carbery, Manchester U.P.

External linksEdit