Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Blogorama V: Politics for People

[To find out more about the Co-operative Party visit their website. Membership is only £15, with a reduced rate of £5 for young members (under 26), you can join here.]

As you may or may not know several of us here at the Labour Club are not just members of labour, we are also members of the Co-operative Party. And since the Scottish Co-operative Party Council is this Saturday in Glasgow I thought it would be appropriate to have a Co-operative blog as the subject of Blogorama V.

Politics for People in their own words:

Unofficially blogging for the Co-operative Party, part of the global co-operative movement. We work with the Labour Party to influence its policies towards more co-operative solutions.

We believe in individual empowerment and self-help. We believe that a better share of this planet's wealth between Northern and Southern hemispheres and a greater respect for our environment will help us build a sustainable, safer and progressive society.

I hope that you'll agree that those are extremely laudable goals to pursue and values to promote.

As has been said here before, the current economic situation, caused in large part by the recklessness of profit seeking corporations, is a clear demonstration of the benefits of mutuality. Of companies that are held responsible for their actions by the people whose money allows them to operate in the first place. Politics for People recently reported on the Co-operative Party in Wales launching a document concerning the recent credit crunch (emphasis mine):

Yesterday the Co-operative Party and Wales 20:20 launched a new document, "Co-operative Values in a Credit Crunch Wales". "Difficult times call for new ways of thinking" is the key message from the authors, Karen Wilkie and Robbie Erbmann of the Co-operative Party. With co-ops and building societies, not least Principality Building Society, thriving and attracting new customers, they put forward a vision of a Welsh economy remade with co-operative values.

Huw Lewis AM, a Labour Co-operative Assembly Member, wrote the foreword for the pamphlet, saying, "I’ve been a proud member of the Co-operative Party for over 20 years, and the proposals in this pamphlet explain why. The movement has never stopped bringing forward radical, yet workable ideas. With the onset of the recession policy makers have a duty to look closely at these excellent proposals which underline co-operative values, matching innovation with pragmatism."

One point I think cannot be emphasised enough is the success of Co-operatives in the current economic climate. Their responsible and ethical business practices have kept them away from the massive losses (and subsequent bailouts) of the banks.

Politics for People also cover the Co-operative Party's campaigns, including Plan Bee [which we also posted about] the Co-operative Party's brand new campaign to arrest a worrying decline in bee numbers:

The bee is the symbol of the Co-op's membership and, more importantly, a major part of the ecosystem and our food producing system. A third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. So the news that bees are declining in numbers fast is a major threat to agriculture. It was the subject of a debate at last year's Co-operative Party conference, but hasn't yet hit the headlines. It's time it did.

To address the disturbing issue of bees dying out, The Co-operative - Britain's biggest farmer - has launched Plan Bee. They have launched a ten-point plan to save bees and a campaign where we can all get involved.

I'd like to stress that last sentence, "a campaign where we can all get involved", because I think it illustrates one of the major characteristics of the Co-operative Party and co-operative groups in general, the involvement of members, and in every facet of the organisation and decision making processes of a group. This structure makes co-operative groups more accountable, and thus more prudent in their actions. A characteristic that would benefit a lot of ordinary people if it was spread to more businesses. [If you agree you can join the Co-operative Party and makes this a reality.]

Through its People's Rail campaign the Co-operative Party have worked hard to incorporate a responsible and accountable structure for the governance of Network Rail. As posted here:

This week saw Network Rail's AGM. It was a big milestone in our People's Rail campaign. The Co-operative Party has been calling for a review of the company's governance, and for that review to give the public more power and hold the various levels of governance to account. There was a motion put up by a small number of the members of Network Rail which called for a review: "that members establish a governance 'Review Group' to consider the effectiveness of company's corporate governance practices, with particular reference to the accountability of the Board to its members and of its members to the company’s wider stakeholders."

We knew there would be strong opposition, even though a regular review of governance is difficult to oppose. After all, the UN, the EU and the NHS are among the institutions doing so. But we hoped that the AGM had taken note of the public, politicians and the press who had supported the People's Rail campaign.

And so it turned out, to our great pleasure. Against the odds, members narrowly backed the motion (all other votes were won overwhelmingly). It's good to see that the senior team, who according to reports opposed the motion, have accepted the result graciously and have welcomed the chance to consider the future structure of Network Rail.

The Chair of the Co-operative Party Parliamentary Group, Sarah-McCarthy-Fry MP, made it clear that the campaign will continue until we get the right result for passengers: "This decision represents a vindication of the People's Rail campaign. However, we have to remember this is just the first step of many. Network Rail is still a long way from being accountable to passengers and the public. We will continue this campaign until it is."

If you want a better run rail network in which companies are responsbile for their failings, and the users of the service have a say in what that service should provide then you should learn more about the People's Rail campaign and I would strongly recommend that you consider joining the Co-operative Party.

The best way to progress as people, and as a nation, and as an international community, is through mutual co-operation and making sure that those with large degrees of power are accountable to the majority who don't

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