Co-operative Manoeuvring II
Since we published our report from the Newham Co-operative Party AGM, we received the following email from “The Rule Book Guy”, who had valiantly challenged some of the key decisions made by the national officer during the meeting:
Hi Newham Transformed
I have been sent a link to your excellent blog piece on the Newham Co-operative Party AGM on Tuesday 09/04.
I am the “The rulebook guy” you refer to and I thought it was worth clarifying a few things that I don’t think were clear to most people at the meeting, that you might want to pass on to others via your blog.
First of all there is indeed a Co-op Party rule book – available in multi-sections here:
The rules that I raised were:
“Branch Party meetings shall be held at least four times a year”
(The Rule Book – Section P – Model Rules for a Branch Party, para 22);
which prompted a less than fulsome apology (but no explanation) from the outgoing Chair Julianne Marriott (who was not standing for re-election) but not a peep from the Secretary Neil Wilson, who, as you report, was subsequently ‘re-elected’ at a second attempt in a questionable re-ballot.
“All elections shall normally be by the exhaustive ballot vote. In elections where there is more than one vacancy to be filled (e.g. Party Council or CLP delegates) the Single Transferable Vote may be used”
(The Rule Book – Section Q – Standing Orders for Party Council & Branch Meetings, para 15);
which as you say the Co-op national officer ‘batted away’ by claiming that the Co-op Party NEC had given a special dispensation for that rule not to apply to Newham Co-op Party.
However, it was national officer’s response to the final point of order I raised that surprised me, and I would be fairly certain that most people present (whatever way they were voting) may not have fully appreciated the implications of.
3.”Society Co-operative Parties registered and affiliated to the Co-operative Party shall be eligible for affiliation to each Constituency Labour Party in their area as the representative of the wider Co-operative Movement.
Representation shall be on the same basis and subject to the same limitations as to the maximum number of delegates as apply to other affiliated organisations”.
(Rule Book – Section G – National Agreement between the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party, para 10).
What the national officer said in response (but without clearly spelling it out) was that the phrase “representative of the wider Co-operative Movement” means is that the number of delegates Newham Co-op Party is entitled to send to each of the two CLPs in Newham is not based on the number of Co-op Party members resident in each CLP or even the total Co-op Party members in the borough, but is based on the number of people involved in the “Co-operative Movement” locally; which in Newham, as in most other areas, overwhelmingly means all the people who have a ‘Co-op card’ as a result of shopping in a Co-op shop.
I am a member of the Co-operative Group that run the shops (in fact it’s a requirement of Co-op Party membership to also be a member of a Co-operative society) and I regularly receive emails from them (usually relating to special offers in the shops), but in none of them has there been any information about Co-op Party delegates who supposedly represent Co-op shoppers on CLP GCs; nor is there any such information on the Co-op Group’s web page inviting shoppers to become Co-op members:
So we have delegates to CLPs (no matter how small the local Co-op Party membership) supposedly representing mainly Co-op shoppers who are not informed about the existence of these delegates, have no involvement in their appointment, and receive no reports on what these CLP delegates do as their supposed ‘representatives’ (and who in their majority probably regard their Co-op card in much the same way as any other supermarket ‘loyalty card’).
Yet we have local Labour Party members, many who identify as on the ‘left’ (including at least two councillors present) who are either unaware of or happy to become or support the appointment of Co-op CLP GC delegates on the basis of this ‘democratic fiction’?
Lastly, in relation to the alleged ‘spoiled’ ballot paper and re-ballot for the position of Secretary, Deputy Mayor John Gray and another speaker made much of the Co-op national officer supposedly acting as ‘Returning Officer’; implying that his decision on the matter was above question. However, as anyone who has attended the ‘count’ of an election for public office will know, actual legally appointed Returning Officers do not make summary decisions on questionable ballot papers alone but convene a meeting of candidates and/or their representatives at which the questionable ballot papers are presented and the Returning Officer sets out the reasons for their view on whether a particular ballot paper can be regarded as a vote for a particular candidate or not.
Thank you and bravo, Rule Book Guy! Now we know why you were censured and threatened with eviction from the meeting.