Palmer left school at the age of 14. By the age of 21 he was a director of the Manchester and Salford Company-operative Society, the largest consumer co-operative in Manchester. During the First World War he served with the Manchester Regiment in Egypt, Belgium and France, becoming a commissioned officer in 1918.
At the age of 30, Palmer was appointed Cashier and Financial Adviser of the Company-operative Union, the trade body of the consumer co-operative movement.
In 1929 he became the body"s general secretary. He continued in the role until 1947.
He also became President of the International Company-operative Alliance. In 1945 Palmer was raised to the peerage as Baron Rusholme, of Rusholme in the City of Manchester, becoming the first Company-operative peer among the Labour ranks.
He joined the British Transport Commission in 1947, serving until 1959, and chaired the London Midland Area Board of British Railways from 1955 to 1960.
Lord Rusholme died in August 1977, aged 86, when the barony became extinct.