Apples and Activists – Keeping it Co-op

This Saturday there will be a vote which decides the entire future of the Cooperative Party. An election which has been mired in controversy and anger over the way it has been run. If we don’t get our vote out then we could lose our sister party and lose a major voice for the Cooperative Movement. We’re already heartbroken over losing the General Election; I couldn’t stand it if we lost on Saturday.  Please vote YES to 9 and 10

organisations3

Over the last few weeks I have heard many people talk about the Cooperative Group’s values and principles. They talk of these values as something special, something worth fighting for and something that has been passed down to us. These are the things that make the Cooperative so much more than just a shop, more than just another ASDA or Tesco on the high street; things that make it part of a movement. There are groups of people who shop, insure and bank with the Cooperative because they believe in these values and find them more and more attractive.

However recently there has been an attempt to break away from these values and away from the wider Cooperative Movement. Claims are being made that the Cooperative Group needs to change or it will sink. Allan Leighton the chair of the Cooperative Group has stated that “It’s the apples, not the activists, which will transform the coop.”

As part of the attempt to break away from the Cooperative Movement, the Cooperative Group has put its century long connection with the Cooperative Party up for grabs.

Often an unknown and misunderstood organisation, for 98 years the Cooperative Party has existed to promote Cooperative Values and Principles in Parliament and ensure that Co-operators get elected and that the wider cooperative movement has a voice in politics and policy.

11173349_468709369954718_771795215887796316_n

In 1917 one hundred and seven independent co-operative businesses voted to establish the Co-op Party, because they recognised that the changes they wanted to see and their vision of a better, more equal society wouldn’t happen without political action.

1917_full

Alfred Waterson – First Cooperative MP

There were immediate results of this action with the first Cooperative MP Alfred Waterson being elected in 1918. Although elected solely as a Cooperative Party MP, Waterson chose to accept the Labour Party whip, I suspect in part because in the British Electoral System the only way to have any impact is to work with a larger party. It wasn’t until 1927 however, that there was an official recognition of this rather canny decision and unique relationship and a decision to stand joint candidates. This has been a successful electoral relationship for the Cooperative Party with them currently being the 4th largest political party in the House of Commons (24 MPs).

The electoral pact has led many people to confuse the two parties or assume that the Cooperative Party is just another wing of the Labour Party, another Fabian Society or Progress. This assumption is completely false, although the Cooperative stands joint candidates with the Labour Party, in all other ways they are an individual Party with their own membership, staff, national executive committee (NEC) and policy platform, all of which are independent of Labour’s.

If there has been a piece of legislation which has benefited consumers you can safely bet that there was a Cooperative Party MP at the heart of it. If there has been a change in the law which has improved the situation for Cooperatives and Mutuals you can presume that there is a Coop Party MP there and if there is legislation around protecting the environment and encouraging renewables again it is more likely than not that there is a Coop MP there.
The Cooperative Party has used the last 98 years well; growing, evolving and becoming a major voice in the political landscape. It may actually be the Party which is the best value for money for donors.

11100868_461986467293675_2731970097662945100_n

Since 1917 the majority of British retail cooperatives have been absorbed and combined into the Co-operative Group. The Cooperative group has become a major beneficiary of 150 years of British Cooperation and the investment of time, money and passionate commitment by Cooperators, including politicians, much of which has taken place in the last 100 years.

As the main beneficiary of our long and glorious history, and as Britain’s largest cooperative, it must be asked if the Coop Group have a duty towards the wider cooperative movement or are they solely responsible to its current members?

How much of the development that they profit from can be put down to the influence of the Cooperative Party?

Are we just shoppers or are we pioneers of another way of doing politics?

Which-side-are-you-on

Please vote to Keep it Coop. Ballots close on the 13th.

Let’s talk about AWS baby

93106

Jennie Lee, MP, Baroness, Legend, Woman

All Women Shortlists, that bogeyman within the Labour Party. The sole thing that is stopping men from becoming MP’s.

Or so you would think if you listened to the conversation which proliferates around events. Apparently it is now harder for a white, middle-class, male to get into parliament then it is for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle. Women are being put into place purely because they are women, it’s sexist to have a Labour Women’s Network and not a Labour Men’s Network and look at all the advantages they get from the LWN training scheme. They even get their own conference for Bevan’s sake!

There seems to be this view that AWS are giving women an unfair advantage, it’s not about leveling the playing field so much as women taking over. Yet studies have shown that a woman won’t apply for a job unless she has over 85% of the qualities asked for whereas a man will apply if he has only 20%.

There’s an awful lot of privilege denying going on, women are automatically less likely to be selected on an open shortlist, not because of lack of ability, but because selection panels often reflect the makeup of the G.C. G.C’s often tend to be male dominated as they are more likely to put themselves forward or attend meetings. Interestingly this often doesn’t reflect the makeup of the CLP, women are more likely to be silent members, they would go to meetings but were scared off, have to look after the kids or a million and one other activities which are automatically designated “women’s work” even in the most egalitarian and feminist of couples.If CLP’s aren’t gender balanced then how can we expect selections to be genderblind? As Ann Black said in her response to the LWN “Around 75% of parliamentary candidates in non-target seats are also men, worrying because these can often be the first step towards a parliamentary career.”

Men are also more likely to take part in more high-profile campaigning than women, leaflet folding, photocopying and phone canvassing are just as vital to voter ID as doorknocking but have less kudos when selecting people for positions in branch, G.C or as candidates. This is something which needs to be looked into, doorknocking is intimidating enough as it is but as a woman you are constantly reminded that you are not safe. Be it through ad campaigns that blame victims for their own attack or other forms of media which use women as victims. Most men I know have never had to consider their safety in detail before leaving the house, grasping keys in their hand as a defence against attack or ringing a friend before walking home, getting in a taxi or leaving the house when it’s dark.Putting yourself in a situation where you are meeting strangers at their own house automatically rings alarm bells of “not safe, not safe” even if you are in a large group, it does for me even though I have been doorknocking for years. This is one of the reasons women tend to do the backroom work and leave the high-profile stuff to the men. However this counts against them when going for selection.

If you’re a youngish woman, that can count against you. Even though it is no longer asked assumptions are made about your reproductive capabilities and whether you would be able to commit to the role if you had a baby. This is despite some high-profile female MP’s managing to combine both childcare and politics well. I doubt that this is thought of when it comes to male candidates.

As a party we often have an aggression towards AWS based on what is seen as them being imposed by on high. The NEC sets a target and Regional Office tells CLP’s what to do.

  • What we need to start working on is a grassroots approach, we need to start valuing the input women make to campaign work and remove the hierarchy of contributions.
  • There needs to be work on gender balance at the branch and CLP level as well as on selection panels.
  • There has been some excellent work on reformulating the structure of branch and g.c meetings but more has to be done. Thought needs to be paid to the time most of these meetings are and pooling childcare.
  • Women need to be encouraged to stand, when I stood it was the result of a lot of arm twisting on behalf of my CLP chair and secretary who thought I was a good candidate. Without that support I doubt I would have stood or even be considering standing until I was past my 40’s.
  • We also need to start promoting the women within our party, those who have been elected need to start speaking at CLP’s and writing about their experiences, no one person’s experience is the same but we can all support and learn from each other.

Most importantly we need to stop talking about AWS as if they are some giant evil on the level of Beveridge’s Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Do you think a woman is going to stand after years of being told that she isn’t as good as a man? Do you think that after 20 odd years that someone is going to say something so shocking and new that it will overthrow the entire system?

What we do need to talk about is what other ways we can get women into politics and make it so that AWS aren’t needed but can be considered a relic of the past.