Co-operative Commonwealth or New Jerusalem? The Co-operative Party and the Labour Party, 1931-1951.

Whitecross, Angela Frances (2015) Co-operative Commonwealth or New Jerusalem? The Co-operative Party and the Labour Party, 1931-1951. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The Co-operative Party, despite representing the largest consumer and social movement in Britain, is systematically overlooked or misunderstood in twentieth century British political historiography.
What makes this neglect more surprising is that from 1927 the Co-operative Party had a formal electoral agreement with the Labour Party, the basis of which remains in place today. Through this agreement the two parties agreed to work together to return joint Co-operative-Labour candidates in certain constituencies. This unique political alliance reflected a shared ideological ground between the two parties, united in their aim to displace capitalism with common ownership. However, despite this common aim, the methods through which this would be achieved varied and whilst the Labour Party focused on state ownership as key to the ‘socialist commonwealth’, the Co-operative Party, as the political arm of theco-operative movement embodied the ideal of a‘co-operative commonwealth’ built on the principles of democratic voluntary association.
Historians who have addressed the relationship between the Labour Party and the co-operative movement have argued that co-operative methods of ownership were systematically marginalised, overlooked and ignored by the Labour Party, particularly during the 1945 to 1951 period of Labour Government. In this context, this thesis will examine the political relationship between the Co-operative Party and the Labour Party in the broader period from 1931 to 1951. It will argue that both organisational and ideological factors contributed to the invisibility of co-operative methods of ownership in the policies of the Labour Party. Moreover, this will provide an additional perspective to debates regarding the development of the Labour Party during the 1930s and over the future direction of nationalisation post 1945. Despite its marginality the Co-operative Party represented a large body of working class consumers and a significant business organisation, which straddled both the labour movement and co-operative movement.
Whilst this thesis agrees that co-operative ideas of ownership remained a minor influence on the Labour Party throughout this period, it will nevertheless argue that Co-operative Party contributions to policy discussions provide an alternative perspective from which a growing recognition of the diversity of influences on the Labour Party can be explored. In doing so this thesis will also provide an original interpretation of the organisational and policy history of the Co-operative Party. This will highlight tensions not only with the Labour Party, but also within the co-operative movement with regards to the function and purpose of the Co-operative Party - and more significantly the role of the co-operative movement in a socialist society.

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