John Harris

Journalist & Author

The Rochdale Pioneers to Paul Flowers: how the Co-operative dream died

Mounting debts, chaotic governance, controversies over executive pay and a bank chair who has become a laughing stock. The high street chain that once cared for British people from cradle to grave is in dire straits

The history of the British Co-operative movement

In February 2009, the Co-operative Group announced that Bob Dylan had allowed it to use one of his most treasured songs in a UK TV advert. The work of London agency McCann Erickson, the commercial in question was soundtracked by his 1962 classic Blowin’ in the Wind, and was a self-consciously epic affair: two-and-half minutes long, voiced over by the Scottish actor John Hannah, and first shown on ITV at 7.40pm on a Monday night, mid-way through Coronation Street.

It began with a boy launching dandelion seeds into the breeze, which then floated over windfarms, arctic glaciers, Fairtrade coffee plantations, and other symbols of the Co-op Group’s supposedly towering ethical standards. "From community projects to a share of the profits, renewable energy to Fairtrade products, the Co-operative believe that when the benefits are passed around it’s good for everyone," went the simpering script.

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