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Have the leadership candidates been co-operating?

When Alex Baker asked LabourList back in June ‘when are our leadership candidates going to start co-operating?’ it was at the beginning of a long, long summer of debate and soul-searching in the party looking for a credible figure to lead us in opposition and be Labour’s Prime Minister.

After dozens of hustings, hundreds of campaign events, thousands of miles travelled by the five contenders, we are just days away from the decision of members being announced.

The Co-operative Party, whilst not having a direct say in the leadership (we are not affiliated to Labour nationally), has played a visible role in this process. Leadership hustings for Co-operative Party members in London, Manchester and just this week in Bristol have given the candidates the chance to lay out their co-operative credentials, and we set out our questions for them in a series of interviews.

And, after Gordon Brown as the first ever Labour leader to be a member of the Co-operative Party, we are guaranteed to have our second, with Andy, David, Diane and both Eds being members. Indeed, Ed Balls is the first ever Labour & Co-operative MP to stand for the office of Leader of the Labour Party, a remarkable milestone for the co-op movement. Today he published his own co-operative manifesto.

So how did the five who aspire to be Labour’s leader respond to Alex’s challenge? Pretty well, all told. Some common themes emerged. All five promoted our idea that Northern Rock should be returned to the mutual sector, echoing Labour’s general election manifesto which said the party would “encourage a mutual solution”.

Support for co-operative trust schools was high, particularly from Ed Balls, who said he established “co-op trust schools to give everybody with a stake in the school’s success a greater say.” There was much that could be learnt from mutual principles for public services more generally too, with Ed Miliband saying:

“From the NHS to our schools, our public servants and public service users should have a greater opportunity to get involved in running and even owning their services and co-operatives are one of the best ways of achieving this.”

Football, where money and poor governance threaten to poison the public’s relationship with its favourite sport, is also ripe for mutual reform. Andy Burnham highlighted the leading role he played in forming Supporters Direct to give fans a voice in football and has made reform of the game a core part of his offer. Other candidates have followed.

New ideas too have emerged. In an article for Progress with Tessa Jowell, David Miliband articulated his idea for the BBC to become a co-operative, giving a real say to all who pay the licence fee:

“Under a mutual model, membership of the BBC could be open to everyone who pays the licence fee. Members could have the right to elect representatives to a members’ council that would elect a majority of members of the BBC Trust. This would give licence fee payers a way to democratic voice in the priorities of the BBC.”

Finally, a core theme has been opposition to the Conservatives’ ‘Big Society’ and the cover it gives to their ideological agenda of cuts. Diane Abbott gave a major speech to Policy Exchange, reported here on LabourList, which cleverly dissected the Big Society and gave a passionate vision of a better state working with co-ops, mutuals and community networks: “New labour regarded mutual organisation and co-ops as dusty and old fashioned compared to the bright shiny world of the free markets and international financial services. But now unfettered free markets have nearly crashed the world economy, maybe it is time for the Labour party to rediscover some of those old models.”

So, for Alex Baker and thousands of other Co-operative Party members, the future of the partnership with Labour looks healthy. Whoever Labour chooses as their next Leader is set to build on the most co-operative Labour manifesto ever and put mutual principles at the heart of their vision.

For more on the candidates’ views on co-ops, read their responses to the Co-operative Party’s questions:

Andy Burnham gives his vision of a strong NHS on mutual principles, a football system which puts fans at its heart and ‘aspirational socialism’.

David Miliband talks of his membership of the Party and his local credit union, and the potential for co-op structures for Northern Rocks, pubs, schools and energy.

Diane Abbott underlines her own commitment to co-operative values and describes her own background in a journalists’ co-op in the 1980s.

Ed Balls – the first ever co-operative MP to stand for the Leadership – outlines his record in Government on co-operative schools and financial services and wants to expand co-operative housing and re-mutualise Northern Rock.

Ed Miliband reminds readers of his role in making the last manifesto the most co-operative ever and promises to argue for a greater role for the mutual model in banking and to give users and workers a greater voice in public services.


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