Report from the Newham Co-operative Party AGM 2019
Newham Co-operative party AGM took place on the 9th of April 2019. After more than one year of inactivity, in which not a single branch meeting was called, the AGM notice was sent like a rat out of an aqueduct, with one week’s notice from the national party’s membership officer, who was present with another officer to officiate the meeting.
The room booked by the existing secretary was so small that with only ten minutes before the start, it was deemed necessary to move to another slightly bigger room inside the same venue. The second room was packed in no time with members shuffling around to make ad hoc seating arrangements. As the door was closed, the total attendance was 53, with a large number of councillors and even the Mayor and the deputy mayor present.
The meeting kicked off with a flurry of points of order. Most of them seemed reasonable concerns, such as: Why the sudden, short notice? Why is the AGM being held during a school half term, when most members with children are likely to go on holidays? Why no meetings were called since the last AGM? Why the national officers are organising it and not the existing local branch officers? But the most interesting one, which seemed a bit mischievous at first, was a member raising health and safety concerns on the choice of venue. However, upon seeing how jam packed the room was, some members felt a bit anxious and murmured what would happen in an event of a fire.
All points of order were dealt with by the national officer, one by one, but his explanations raised further questions. After a bit of clamour and indignation from some members, the national officer proceeded to explain the voting system. Which raised a further point of order. This time, it was from a member who had come armed with hard copies of some extracts from the Co-operative Party’s rule book [Is there such a thing? Ed.] and quoted from it. This too was calmly batted away by the national officer.
Election for the position of chair became a head to head between two female members, as the incumbent stepped down and another male candidate withdrew. Aleen Alarice won, but when some members asked for the count, it wasn’t revealed. The new chair took her position and spoke eloquently asking for unity. She then invited the Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, to speak. The Mayor spoke about the crime incident which had taken place in Manor Park the day before, and then spoke really well on cooperative values.
It was then announced that results for all the other positions will be declared right at the end of the meeting. The voting began. But soon hilarity ensued as a member, who had stood for several positions, and who was not in the room, had apparently told some attendees prior to the meeting that he wished to withdraw from the vice chair position. The national officer demanded that unless he sees it in writing, the absent candidate will remain on the ballot paper. After some hurried fumbling and whispers, several members eventually got a text message and one of them showed it to the national officer.
As the agenda moved on to the delegates election to the GC of West Ham and East Ham CLP [The most important bit. Ed.], the member with the extracts from the rulebook raised a very pertinent point of order with regards to how the number of delegate positions (five) for each CLP was calculated. Batted away once again by the national officer, citing some esoteric rule which left everyone in the room baffled. Apart from one or two members, who expressed their admiration for the national officer with spontaneous applause. However, the member with the scraps of rulebook, clutched tightly in his fists, refused to budge and accept that verdict. He was then promptly shouted down and threatened with eviction from the meeting by the national officer. The rulebook guy still managed to say his last few words, which also included the point that he had tried to contact the national office of the Co-operative Party several times over the past year, but never received a response. He finally sat down and didn’t speak again for the rest of the meeting.
Delegates to the West Ham CLP had already been elected unopposed: The local Labour Party deity and West Ham CLP secretary, John Saunders; Councillor and Cabinet Member, Charlene McLean; Councillor Mumtaz Khan; Councillor and the incumbent Newham Co-operative Party secretary, Neil Wilson; and it was third time lucky for the local anti-Corbyn blogger, Martin Warne aka Mr. forestgate.net, who had previously failed to get a GC position at his own Labour Party branch AGM, and didn’t get his chance via Fabians either, as their AGM was cancelled at the last minute. But Warne wasn’t in the room, as pointed out by several councillors, who also seemed to know of his exact whereabouts.
All progressed smoothly, until it was revealed that there was a dead heat for the secretary position between the incumbent and his challenger (remember the absent member?). The ballot papers were distributed once again and the count took place outside. Eventually, as the results for the officer positions were ready to be announced by the chair, one of the observers came back and proclaimed that one of the votes for the absent member for secretary’s position had been wrongly discounted as invalid. The observer then demanded that the ballot paper should be shown inside the meeting room so members can decide whether it was the right decision to discount the vote. Cue pandemonium. It was then suggested that a picture should be taken of the incriminating ballot. Cue mirth and pandemonium. The observer stood his ground for a while until the national officer came back, did his thing, and then gave the chair a chance to read out the results, which were as follows:
Vice Chair: The Progress man, Councillor James Beckles.
Secretary: The man who didn’t call one single meeting and finished the year with flying colours by not managing to even book a suitable place for the AGM, ladies and gentleman, after a controversial recount, put your hands and legs together for Councillor Neil Wilson.
Treasurer: The only existing officer, who seemed to have done some work over the past year, as it was evident from her Treasurer’s report, Averil Donohoe.
For Membership Officer position, there was a wonderful gesture of co-operation by Councillor Moniba Khan, who offered to do a job share with the life-long supporter of that famous peace broker of middle-east, Councillor Alan Griffiths. It was agreed amid a rare display of merriment and conviviality by everyone in the room.
Assistant Secretary: Syed Taqi Jawad Naqvi, who was elected unopposed.
For Events/Social Secretary [You’re joking?? Ed.] Nominations were taken from the floor as nobody expressed an interest during that very long week. Sarup Choudhury was elected unopposed.
For the two auditor positions, only John Saunders, who sent his apologies, expressed an interest prior to the meeting, and was elected unopposed. The other position remains vacant.
The London Co-operative Party Delegates: Councillor Alan Griffiths, Mehmood Mirza, Councillor Sugga Thekke were elected unopposed. The women’s nominations were taken from the floor. Donna Guthrie and Jeanette Dye were both elected unopposed.
The East Ham CLP delegates were, Syed Taqi Jawad Naqvi, Councillor Moniba Khan, David Gilles, Sugga [OK, that’s enough. Who cares! It was all about West Ham CLP AGM anyway. Ed]
The AGM well and truly lived up to its reputation. Councillors packing the room, accusations of stitch-up and rule bending, and complaints about bad behaviour. Some things never change. As it had been the case under the tyranny of Sir Robin, Newham Cooperative Party is still being used as a political tool rather than promoting much needed co-operative values and policies.