1945

‘A party within a party’? The co–operative Party-Labour Party alliance and the formation of the Social Democratic Party, 1974–81

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The British co-operative movement’s relationship with politics has been complex. Although co-operation on the Rochdale model entails the conception of an alternative socialist economic and social order, party political neutrality was enshrined in the rules of the Rochdale Pioneers, who viewed party politics as ideologically divisive and the antithesis of working-class association. From its formation in 1917, however, the Co-operative Party, the only co-operative political party in the world, has aligned itself with the Labour Party. The Co-operative Party–Labour Party alliance seeks to combine the interests of working-class consumers and producers, but it has been characterised by tensions over the best means to achieve this goal. In 1927 the Co-operative Party’s parent body, the Co-operative Union, signed an electoral agreement with the Labour Party that would be renewed at subsequent general elections. Between 1945 and 1983 the Co-operative Party was the third largest party in the British Parliament. Although its MPs have traditionally been associated with the centre-right of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), the Co-operative Party is a ‘broad church’ incorporating centre-left opinions. In 1981, however, the defection of four Co-operative Party and two Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society-sponsored MPs to a new ‘progressive centre party’, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), brought into focus the perceived clash between co-operative and Labour values, and threatened the stability of the alliance.

Related Subject(s): Economic and Social Development
Sustainable Development Goals:
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