Is the Co-op a Super PAC?

17 05 2015

Britain’s 2015 election saw a new campaign trick, imported from America and benefitting the Labour Party. Labour hired David Axelrod for the campaign, he was touted as the ‘wizard’ behind Barack Obama’s winning election campaign and maybe Super-PAC style politics hitting the UK political scene was one of his spells.

Super-PACS are non-party organisations formed in America to get around campaign funding restrictions. They don’t contribute to campaigns but can otherwise spend what they like, and while they are non-party organisations, the separation can sometimes seem rice-paper thin.

Britain’s Labour Party has an appendix in the form of the Co-operative Party whose roots lie in the 19th Century cooperative movement in the North of Britain. The party has been absorbed into its political body but the name lives on.

This political vestige brings with it another link which is a lot more useful; the Co-operative Group. While it started out as a workers co-operative, it has turned itself into a chain of more or less thriving supermarkets and the country’s top funeral provider. They used to run a successful bank too but while the name remains that is now run by an American hedge-fund.

This week the Co-operative movement voted to continue its association with the Co-operative (i.e. Labour) Party and to make an £1million annual contribution – see here.

But the Co-op made another contribution during the election campaign; it very subtly spent around Britain’s election campaign laws. Television adverts for political parties are absolutely banned for British elections. By coincidence the Co-op decided to run a TV campaign during the election. It didn’t back any Labour policy, it didn’t endorse any Labour candidate, nothing as vulgar (or illegal) as that.

As you can see in the video above, it showed a boy, aged about 11 being sent on an errand to the shops by his mother. He hops on his bike, alone, down clear and safe roads before dumping his bike, unlocked, on the pavement outside where he bumps into a friend, a girl of similar age also sent out alone on her bike to fetch something from the shops.

So how does this help Labour? This advert isn’t about selling bread; it’s selling a utopian vision that chimed with the vision Labour sought to project. The world of trust and security it claimed it could rebuild rather than the nasty dystopian mad-max world we seem to live in according to the papers.

It’s subtle, it’s very subtle, but it’s also political, very very political.

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