Funding for the Co-operative Party has been secured following a vote by members.
In a relationship that goes back to the party’s founding in 1917, the Co-operative Group last year donated £625,000 to the party as a subscription, which is approximately 60% of its funding.
Motion 10 at the Group’s AGM, put forward by members, asked for the approval of political expenditures (not to exceed £1m per annum) that support the objectives of the co-operative movement, and was carried by members with 55% of the vote. This expenditure includes the membership subscription to the Co-operative Party. The board was neutral on this position, while the council recommended that members supported motion 10.
Under motion 9, put forward by the Group board, members were asked three questions to decide the co-operative’s policy on political donations:
- 9a: Should the society make any donations to political parties?
- 9b: Should the society only make donations to the Co-operative Party?
- 9c: Should the society make donations across a range of political parties?
Motion 9a was defeated by members, with 62% against, which means the Group doesn’t have a mandate to make donations to any political parties.
Members voted against motion 9b, with 51% against, which allows donations to all parties.
Motion 9c was also against, with 75% against, which would have allowed the Group to donate to more than one political party.
With members not approving 9a, the board will honour a pre-existing commitment to continue making contributions to the Co-operative Party until the end of 2016.
Before the meeting, the council asked the Group board to consider withdrawing the motion due to concerns that the motion was misleading and referred to donations, where as the current relationship with the Co-operative Party is one of paying subscriptions, with the Group being a member-owner of the Party. It also argued that any change of this significance required full consultation and discussion and it would be best to be done at a future AGM.
While it was waiting for a response from the board on whether it was prepared to withdraw its motion, the council recommended that members supported board motions 9a and 9c and opposed motion 9b. Explaining its stance on the motions, the council said it believed that co-operative societies should be engaging in how politics was done, promoting co-operation and benefiting the society in an open and accountable way.
The council did not back motion 9b arguing that it excluded political parties other than the Co-operative Party, preventing the Group from supporting like-minded or sympathetic parties or campaigns.
Following the meeting, the Co-operative Group’s chair, Allan Leighton, said: “The members’ motion [motion 10] said we should be allowed to spend up to £1m. It allows us to now have a conversation with the Co-op Party about what we do next. We’ve agreed the £625,000 contribution for the next 18 months. That was due to be reviewed. There’s clearly a remit from the members to continue to support the Co-op Party.”
Asked whether the Group would make any demands on the party, he said: “If we’re going to move forward then we clearly need to be much clearer about what we’re going to get. It’s for the members to judge. It’s their money.”
Commenting on the vote, Karin Christiansen, secretary of the Co-operative Party, said: “The Co-operative Party has been the political voice of the co-operative movement for 98 years and we look forward to continuing our successful relationship with the Co-operative Group in light of today’s clear and decisive result.
“Co-operative Group members voted to support this partnership, which has done so much to advance the co-operative cause and to extend and widen people’s ownership, decision-making and a share in the profits of businesses serving their communities. The Co-operative Party looks forward to working with the Co-operative Group’s board and new national members’ council to plan our future work together.”