Opinion: Why do Liberals (and Greens, and Conservatives) fund the Labour Party?

Why are Liberals, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Socialists, Plaid Cymru, and non-party supporters funding the Labour Party?

“In 2008, an overall financial contribution of £646,000 (2007: £646,103) was made to The Co operative Party”. The Co-operative Group website.

Every non-Labour supporter should read this.

My friend Keith Turner told me a couple of years ago that he didn’t bank with the Co-operative Bank because they funded the Co-operative Party. I had seen nothing about this and thought it unlikely given that our party have had an affinity deal with the Co-operative Bank for years.

I was upping my holdings in the Bank at the time, in light of their slightly more ethical policy than the big banks. As an account holder, a supermarket customer and as a member of the Co-operative I checked all their websites and found nothing suggesting any link with the Co-operative Party.

At a Merseyside Members’ meeting in May I was disappointed to find that various members of the committees were members of the Co-operative Party executive. That of course could be their personal political choice. I was angry to find that the Co-operative Group is funding the Co-operative Party.

The Co-operative Party IS the Labour Party. Co-operative and Labour MPs ARE Labour MPs, in the same way that Conservative and Unionist MPs ARE Conservative MPs. Worse, Labour in government has done little to support Co-operatives for years and yet Liberals have argued in favour of them throughout — when Keynes and others wrote the Yellow Book, when Liberals influenced Callaghan’s Government in the Lib-Lab pact, and in most of our manifestos since 1987.

Why is a consumer and social movement that says it has ethical principles supporting a party that backed the most right wing, illiberal, intolerant, pro-big business Government that this country has ever seen?

Yes, the Labour Governments of 1997–2010 did some good work, but so do MPs of all parties. I doubt that on any audit of their voting that most ‘Co-operative Party’ MPs would pass the fairly basic Co-operative’s ethical tests.

Let’s take a new MP, Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree): she has no readily discernable background in supporting co-operatives, her official website has one mention of them, she has backed one debate in the House over her first year plus 2 EDMs (apart from her party portfolio work, none about the constituency itself), and her website hides her active support for the Israeli regime that would appal her progressive constituents and most co-operators. How is this value for money? There is no reason on her published CV that the Co-operative Group should pay funds towards her and no value for money demonstrated in them doing so (indirectly).

The Co-op could say that they are no different from the big banks backing the Conservative Party. But they claim to be ethical. The Co-operative Group will not achieve an ethical society funding an establishment, illiberal political party and careerist MPs.

I’m not saying they should fund the Liberal Democrats, or anyone else, but all Co-operative members who want the movement to be non-party political should email the group, raise questions at their local members’ meetings, and get this murky corner of political funding and slush funds for the Labour boys and girls exposed.

* Kiron Reid is a Liberal Democrat in Liverpool and a member of the editorial collective of Liberator magazine.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Liberal Neil 13th Nov '11 - 10:06am

    Thanks for this Kiron. I was thinking of writing a post along the same lines. Do you know if that is the overall total or if local coop donations are on top? (Our regional coop also donates.)

  • Simon Thomson 13th Nov '11 - 10:14am

    I’m surprised that someone who is interested in politics should be unaware of the links between the co-operative movement and the Labour Party. Whilst I think they have more in common with us Liberals, as long as the decision is made democratically then I’m afraid there is nothing wrong with it.

    You could argue that tax payers have also funded the Conservative Party, because if a large organisation, whether public or private, chooses to make a donation the finds for that come from profits generated by those who purchase their products or work for them, people who don’t have a say which party their company supports.

  • Well the solution is to challenge such things at membership meetings then respect the democratic decision making process, if you don’t like the outcome you can always bank elsewhere. Or you could even a rival Liberal Democrat Co-Operative party?

    However, if, as it seems, you intention is simply to deprive the Labour party of a long standing source of funds for partisan political reasons then you might find that you don’t get much support. Far more Labour members use the Co-Op than Lib Dems, simply because the Labour party commands more popular support.

  • Foregone Conclusion 13th Nov '11 - 12:36pm

    I think that the best way for the Co-Operative Party to exercise the most influence would be to operate on a ‘fusion’ ticket – offering endorsement, funding and their name on the ballot for co-operative candidates, whether they be Labour, Green, Lib Dem, or (*gasp*) Tory. On the other hand, I imagine this might make them persona non grata within the Labour Party…

  • paul barker 13th Nov '11 - 8:47pm

    This is the old tradition of “The Front Organisation”, common across The Authoritarian Left & as familiar to Labour as to The SWP. Its not just The Co-op thats a Front for Labour, its most of The Trades Unions, large parts of The Volountary Sector & big chunks of The Media.
    We are never going to see the development of Independent Unions & Co-ops while Labour survives as a major Party, not without Legislation anyway.

  • Paul Barker writes: “Its not just The Co-op thats a Front for Labour, its most of The Trades Unions, large parts of The Volountary Sector & big chunks of The Media.”

    Where is your evidence for the extraordinary claim that large parts of the voluntary sector are a front for Labour? Which parts are you referring to?

    As for the “big chunks” of the media, the only media group that has consistently supported Labour is the Mirror Group – considerably out numbered by the newspapers (Sun, Express, Mail etc) that backed the Tories at the last election.

  • Paul Barker has this right. There might have been a chance of overturning wrt Cooperative movement this while New Labour was in power. But now Labour are in opposition and Lib Dems are tied into the coalition you can forget it.

  • Geoffrey Payne: good comment

    As to the original post: all democratic structures ossify if constituent members don’t take enough interest, or if the leadership start adopting command measures and aren’t challenged. That applies to the Co-operative party and to the Lib Dems too – in which connection, the way the coalition agreement was ratified springs to mind.

  • I asked my financial advisor about this once. He assured me that the Coop Bank was the only part of the cooperative movement not to make political donations to anyone.

  • Trade union members who vote Liberal or Conservative have been
    giving the Labour Party money for years by paying the political levy.
    Few opt out.

  • Trade Union members who vote Liberal or Conservative
    have been giving the Labour Party money for years by
    paying the political levy.Few opt out.

  • I am a member of The Co-operative (as opposed to the Co-operative Party) but to me it’s simply just a form of loyalty card. By being a member I get a bit of cash back each year and I get money-off vouchers occasionally. Given that my nearest supermarket is a Co-op and the only one in the town where I work is also a Co-op, I suppose I’m actually taking money out of them they could have put to political purposes. I shop at plenty of other places though that make political donations, including some who give to the Lib Dems, and so if I started getting too fussy about it I’d never shop anywhere. It should be said that The Co-op also sponsor the ALDC members’ reception each year so we do get some benefit as a party.

    My feelings about the Co-op Bank are different as I used to be with them for the same ethical stance as Kiron. However, I left them simply because their customer service was appalling.

  • “Why is a consumer and social movement that says it has ethical principles supporting a party that backed the most right wing, illiberal, intolerant, pro-big business Government that this country has ever seen?”

    Actually, that would be the current government. For me, that rather renders the point of this piece utterly blunt. It’s a shame, because it could have been making an important and reasonable point. Instead, as seems common with the Lib Dems since they got into Government, it came over all tribal and partisan instead. Important things get lost when that happens, which I thought the Lib Dems were aware of.

  • Emsworthian 15th Nov '11 - 3:20am

    This is a fuss about nothing. When it comes to funding I would have thought
    the LD’s are not exactly spotless given one or two past contributions. Politicans
    trying to be more virginal than their rivals is kid’s stuff

  • Any constructive suggestions on what can actually DO about the situation. I am very involved in the Fairtrade movement where the Co-op excels (even in local labour party show little real interest) and it is our local corner shop providing a good service and we use it increasingly.
    Do should I be going along to meetings ? how do I find out who other Lib Dem members are ?

  • “Why is a consumer and social movement that says it has ethical principles supporting a party that backed the most right wing, illiberal, intolerant, pro-big business Government that this country has ever seen? ”

    You shouldn’t, that is why you should stop supporting the Liberal Democrats, who are helping the Conservatives in doing such that and vote Labour at the next election.

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