Gareth Thomas MP

From Harrow, For Harrow.

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Gareths Co-operative Party conference speech

Tuesday 17th of October marks 100 years since the Co-operative Party was founded. This weekend the Coop party held its annual party conference. 

Gareth Thomas, MP for Harrow West, and chair of the Co-operative party made some radical proposals in his speech. Mr Thomas called for a Break up of the Big 6 Energy firms, than enjoy £1 Billion worth of profits while prices soar for people. He also called for RBS to be turned into a Building society, to challenge the big stakeholder owned bank and inject a dose of of competition to the financial sector. 

The full transcript of Gareth's speech can be found here: 

The case for co-operative politics


We will welcome Jeremy Corbyn here to this, our centenary conference, shortly. And as with every other leader of our sister party-we will be wishing him well on the journey to Downing Street.

As with every other Labour leader we will always underline what unites us. 

Two sister parties – allies now for 100 years. 

The voices for ordinary people in Parliament, side by side in the difficult times as well as the good. 

But we’ll also explain what we want the Labour Party to do in government to help the co-op movement expand.


John McDonnell’s pledge to our Conference last year, repeated in the Labour Manifesto, to double the size of the co-operative economy - probably the most ambitious pledge ever made to our sector - is a great start.

Our job is to help Labour achieve that ambition; using our ‘ideas to change Britain’.

Celebrating our centenary


A hundred years ago the co-op movement was two million strong. It had expanded under the noses of Liberal and Conservative politicians; as often the only way to get affordable food.

Whitehall didn’t understand the co-op movement then and it doesn’t now either. 

Lloyd George and his minister wouldn’t listen to the co-op movement’s concerns about conscription or a profits tax on the surplus of co-op societies.

And today, Ministers won’t lift a finger to help the co-op movement. 

So once again it is our responsibility to fight the co-operative movement’s corner and to convince Labour in government to act.

In 1917 ministerial indifference and ignorance was made worse by rich business owners targeting the co-op movement.

Now again Government indifference means:

 

  • Credit unions get ignored when tax incentivises are being handed out
  • Renewable energy co-operatives are discriminated against by regulators and financial support ended
  • Action to protect consumers is nowhere near sufficient
  • Funds to help the world’s poorest through co-operation brought to an end
  • Co-op schools ignored in favour of free schools

 

We must remake the case alongside Labour for a stronger, more effective state, but we must always
be pushing for power to be devolved down to ordinary people.

Tributes


We’re in an even stronger position to do so with 38 MPs - our strongest ever group.


Remarkable victories in Plymouth where Luke Pollard won with a 16% swing. And in Edgbaston where the excellent Preet Gill tripled the previous majority. Or Stroud where the veteran David Drew was returned


We have a record number of elected representatives at every level of government, a record number of members, and a record number of supporters. It is thanks to you we are in such a strong position now.

An army of people ready to put our co-operative values into practice.

And let me at this point say thank you to Cheryl, our vice chair, the other members of the NEC; those new this year and those who served in previous years. There’s not always much recognition for the commitment to co-operatives you’ve offered but your contribution has helped to get this party back to the vibrant position we are now in.

And I also want to pay particular tribute to Claire McCarthy and our excellent staff team. Claire joined the party at one of our toughest moments and like Sam Perry, our first General Secretary 100 years ago, has built strong and deep relationships across the sector, and turned policy thinking into campaigning and created a remarkably successful election machine.

Co-op economy


And what’s wonderful is that the wider movement is buoyant again too- the Co-op Group - recovering strongly and getting back to its campaigning best. In Steve Murrells a strong and effective Chief Executive, a Board and Council working successfully together. 

And our friends in the independent co-ops; the biggest of nearly 7,000 co-operatives working in all
parts of the economy, contributing more than £36 billion to the British economy.

What next for the co-op movement?


With a movement so successful and our party in an unprecedentedly strong position in between our celebrations, we must focus on the ideas to change our country for the better. 

Ideas that will change lives by expanding the co-operative movement. 

Ideas to tackle the fact young people are poorer than previous generations and the promise of ever 

increasing living standards is but a distant dream for many. Ideas that will challenge the growing pattern of increasingly insecure and casualised employment.

Ideas that will help to tackle the scandal of four million children and rising, living in poverty, underlining the scale of inequality.

Ideas to help tackle the crisis in our public services, health and social care on their knees, policing, transport, housing all under huge pressure.

Transforming our economy


Our economy is in need of transformation. 

Westminster and Whitehall still hold far too many of the levers of power.


The Conservative Party still pretend that mis-selling, tax avoidance, blacklisting, the rise of zero-hours contracts, grotesque salaries unrelated to corporate performance are only the norm at a few bad apples when the evidence suggests such practices are much more widespread, and are having profound social consequences.


If there is to be a lasting challenge to the inequality and powerlessness that scars our country, more economic power needs to be in the hands of our fellow citizens.


Not just a few important people holding the reins in the town hall, City Hall or in Whitehall.


Not just a few big firms dominating markets but hundreds, thousands, millions of people empowered by co-operatives to take control of their own futures.


Mutual banks


It’s why we’ve championed reforms to banking, and why we want RBS turned into a mutual. 

The Fred Goodwin’s might have gone but the basic structure of the banking market hasn’t changed, and even the government’s favourite watchdog is worried customers – you and I, small businesses, local charities – still aren’t getting a good deal.


It’s time the Government recognised the need for a more diverse set of financial lenders:- a big new mutual. How about instead of RBS, the Royal Building Society of Scotland alongside Nationwide and the smaller societies genuinely able to challenge the big banks.

Energy windfall tax

It’s why I hope to convince you of the case for a windfall tax on big energy firms to fund a community energy revolution.

£1.4million a year in excess profits made by the Big 6. We’re going to have an energy price cap but only after energy prices have been put up even higher. If America and Germany can have enough renewable energy co-operatives to keep their big energy players in check, why can’t we have the same here too.

Internationalist


We have always been international in our outlook.


Always willing to show solidarity and support for refugees – people we may never meet but with
similar hopes and dreams to us, who are our brothers and sisters in the human race.

We’re fierce in our support for international development.


Conference, there is one big company that wants to reduce what they buy from co-operatives in Africa because by giving the world’s poorest a basic income it ever so slightly reduces profits.


Let’s send them a message.


No more spin please, no more excuses thanks. Sainsbury’s – just stop undermining Fairtrade. 

And then there’s Brexit.

I know where I stand.

I know co-operation is key to making my country stronger.

And I still think co-operation with our neighbours and allies in Europe is key to our security and collective prosperity.

Isn’t Theresa May handling the negotiations well?

There’ll be more on Brexit with our MPs this afternoon and we’ll want your views over the coming months in more detail. I think we should listen to business, particularly on Brexit, but business needs to recognise it has responsibilities to listen too.

Employment rights and corporate governance


When over half of those living in poverty in this great city are actually in work then it’s time business leaders acknowledged that the traditional business model isn’t working for more and more of our fellow citizens.


Why isn’t it the norm for those in work to have a voice, to be represented by a recognised trade union; or through a Works Council or have one of their own on the Board?


Why isn’t real transparency on pay the norm and director’s duties include increasing decent work as well as just the bottom line?

And with technological innovation making it easier for businesses to avoid tax and employment responsibilities isn’t it time the self-employed could challenge their loss of rights and their isolation at work.

Taxi drivers using co-operation to challenge Uber, Indycube – a trade union backed co-operative for the self-employed, mutual insurance schemes to help the self-employed have support when they’re sick or caring for their children. All ideas that with imagination could help to transform the lives of those in work in precarious employment.

By the many, for the many


I want power in the hands of my neighbours, my friends, those who come, in need, to my surgeries.

I believe in public ownership – not the old-style Gas and Electricity Boards of yesteryear, but the public holding power, being able to shape directly the communities they live in, the services they depend on, and the places where they work. 

I have always believed in the power of ordinary people to come together to challenge vested interests, to co-operate, to build a different, more equal future together. Not nationalisation of the commanding heights but genuine public ownership, by the many, for the many.

I believe that services as diverse as banking, energy, and social care could, and should, be run by ordinary people in their own collective interests, instead of purely for profit.

Our challenge is still to get power into the hands of ordinary people and keep it there.

One hundred years on we’re in a good place, but we can do more. We should do more. Together we will do more.

Thanks very much for listening.

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