Thank you so much for that wonderful welcome and thank you so much for being here today!
Welcome to the magnificent city of Glasgow!
For those of you who were at last night’s reception we were really lucky to hear a little bit about the superb co-operative history of this city.
Indeed Glasgow had very early Co-Operative MPs such as Tom Henderson first elected in 1922, in Glasgow Tradeston and by 1923 – a third of the Co-op party MPs (two out of six!) were from Glasgow!
I hope you may get the chance to steal a glimpse of the wonderful Co-Operative House – built in 1893 complete with elaborately decorated French Renaissance four storey pavilions and now the magnificent golden statue of light and life standing on top of it.
And of course Glasgow has been a huge Pioneer of Co-Operative Housing – there are entire estates and communities built around co-operative institutions and mutualised enterprises.
And friends, we meet together here in the shadow and awe of all this history and heritage, at such an important time…
Never in my lifetime have the values we in this room hold dear, and which brought us together in this movement, been so under threat.
Around the world we see a rise in hatred and division. Intolerence and dishonesty. And a rising nationalism that prefers to put up walls and create new borders rather than break them down.
Our values – of intra-national partnership, friendship and co-operation are being spurned in favour of division, mistrust and isolationism.
Fellow co-operators – I know we will not stand by and let this happen. Together we will stand up for our values and for the kind of world that we want to build.
Our ideas, our co-operative values and our determination are needed today more than ever.
We know what the slogan was of those who sought to divide us. ‘Take back control’ – a phrase used to suggest someone else is trying to take peoples agency and power away from them.
But we in this room know, what is great about our movement and our values is that they are all about giving people control. Giving them agency over their lives. Giving the people power!
I am really proud of the leadership the co-op party has shown on this, the biggest issue of a generation. A second referendum or confirmatory ballot is now confirmed Labour Party policy. You were breaking new ground when you passed this motion at conference last year and made a public vote on the final deal Co-operative party policy.
And it is co-operative values that provide the answers to so many of the other problems that we face:
- The lack of affordable housing can be fixed with more co-operative housing.
- The problems of spiralling personal debt and ‘legal loan sharks’ can be tackled with credit unions, run by and for their members.
- Schools and colleges can be co-operatively run, not to mention leisure centres, libraries, nurseries, cafes, pubs, clubs, social care, energy companies, micro-breweries, football clubs and local businesses.
- The greatest challenge of all – climate change – will only be tackled with co-operative approaches to economic production and distribution, not the rapacious capitalism which has destroyed our environment.
And as the new chair of the Co-operative Party, I believe the answer to a society and an economy in which people feel powerless, lies in alternative forms of social, financial, industrial and retail organisation, based on co-operative principles.
I am very proud of the impact of today’s co-ops. There are over 7,000 independent co-operatives operating across the UK – in every sector from food to farming to funerals. Almost 235,000 people make a living in the co-operative sector, which has a £36.1bn turnover and 13.1 million members. That’s the equivalent of a fifth of the UK’s population. But we are all ambitious to go much further.
I welcome the Labour Party’s commitment to double the size of the co-operative sector of the economy, but I want us to be far more radical and revolutionary. We know that only truly accountable and democratic public ownership with embedded co-operative values and principles will derive the maximum public benefit for the country and restore trust.
When I helped set up the Co-Operative Councils Network in 2011 with the Co-operative Party and some of the pioneering Labour and Co-operative councils around the country, we had a vision to challenge the way local government so often did things ‘to’ people, not with them. What inspired me then was the range and ingenuity of local co-operatives, and the creativity and energy they unleash. We now have over 850 elected co-operative councillors putting co-operation at the heart of local decision making.
And what a year we have had together.
Our award-winning campaign to tackle modern slavery has ignited our membership with our motion being adopted by over 8- councils and forcing the government to strengthen the modern slavery act.
Our Members of Parliament, Assembly Members and here, our Members of the Scottish Parliament have been holding the government to account on issues from fisheries to cash machine closures.
I want to take a moment to offer my huge thanks to Gareth Thomas for 20 years as chair and who did so much to drive our party forward. He did so much to promote our party’s ideas and values with the public and with successive governments. Gareth – many thanks for your service.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who supported the Party in the last year, our members, member societies and affiliate trade unions. Indeed, just yesterday members of Central England were kind enough to vote to continue their support for the Party for a further three years.
But time doesn’t stand still and we have big plans ahead….
We want to deliver much more. We will continue our campaigning work in the areas of food justice and violence against retail workers.
We look forward to furthering our impressive work in local government, working with our Councillors and our metro mayors.
We are all ambitious for our party and we want to ensure that membership continues to grow and the Party attracts as many supporters as possible.
And of course we need to be ready for an election at any time and to fight for a Labour government with co-operative values at its core.
I believe it is our party that can provide the way forward for our riven country and our riven society.
And I believe it is the discussions and debates and ideas and passion that will be on show this weekend that will demonstrate that.
I hope you all have a fantastic weekend and share your great ideas and experiences and that we build and work together to build this better, fairer co-operative vision for our country.