'A union of forces marching in the same direction'? The relationship between the Co-operative and Labour parties, 1918–39

Nicole Robertson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The concept of political neutrality was of central importance to the co-operative movement. A commitment to this principle was laid down in the original rules of the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844. G.D.H. Cole has emphasized that ‘political neutrality’ originally meant abstention from ’faction rights’ between the rival groups that were appealing for working-class support. As conditions changed, the term ‘political neutrality’ was sued in a broader sense, and came out to be understood as neutrality between the Liberal and Conservative parties and their competition for control of the government. At the Co-operative congress of 1917, however, the principle was abandoned; a motion calling for the direct representation of the co-operative movement in parliament ‘as the only way of effectively voicing its demands and safeguarding its interests’ was passed by a majority of 1.979 to 201. The passing of this resolution marked the co-operative movement’s formal entrance into the political scene. In 1918, ten candidates sponsored by the co-operative movement stood in a general election for the first time. Writing in 1925, Alfred Barnes (Co-operative Party chairman) stated that the Co-operative Party and the Labour Party were ‘organically related’ and ‘complementary to each other’. Others supported a close relationship between the two parties as representing ‘a union of forces marching in the same direction’. Yet, relations between the two parties did not always run smoothly. This chapter will examine the relationship between the national executives of the Labour and Co-operative parties, while focusing simultaneously on relations between the individual parties at a local level.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Foundations of the British Labour Party: identities, cultures and perspectives, 1900-1939
EditorsMatthew Worley
Place of PublicationFarnham
ISBN (Print)978-0754667315
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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