Co-op Party fails to uphold the principles of Co-operation

by More Street Cleaning and less Social Cleansing, please

Last week, on the 1st anniversary of the official complaint against Lambeth cooperative council’s evictions of long established Housing Co-ops, a second complaint was officially made, against all the borough’s Co-operative Party councillors.

The Co-operative Party has failed to deal with the first complaint at all, Karin Christiansen, John Boyle and Joe Fortune try to smooth things over when asked for progress updates, they say how complicated the situation is, then they brush it back under the carpet again.

The second complaint, individually naming each Lambeth Co-op Party councillor, hasn’t even been acknowledged, let alone been side-lined, yet.

 

 

The original complaint is here: https://comvox.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/formal-call-for-the-co-operative-party-to-suspend-lib-peck-peter-robbins-and-steve-reed/

 

Here is the new complaint:

Trace Newton-Ingham
Lillieshall Road
Clapham Old Town
London SW4 0LP
Membership No: 120 414

Karin Christiansen, General Secretary    
John Boyle, Membership & Party Support Officer
The Co-operative Party            
77 Weston Street
London SE1 3SD

13th May 2014

Dear Ms Christiansen and Mr Boyle,

Congratulations!

Today is the 1st anniversary of the submission of my formal complaint to the Co-operative Party regarding the destruction of Housing Co-ops in Lambeth.

However, over the past year, my complaint seems to have been, essentially, ignored (apart from unsubstantiated assurances provided in response to my enquiries, that the complaint was being dealt with).
There has not been any formal acknowledgement or report on the progress of my complaint, nor any resolution.
I am still waiting for something to come of my making a Formal Complaint a year ago.

Is the Co-operative Party sticking it’s head in the sand, again?

Lambeth United Housing Co-operative, the umbrella body for the co-op households still in Lambeth, has contacted all the councillors at Lambeth council but has received neither acknowledgment nor support from any of the Co-operative Party members, regarding the ongoing recall of homes, dispersal of communities and serious health and social implications of Lambeth council’s actions.

Mr Joe Fortune, the chair of the Lambeth branch of the Co-operative Party, did call in and have a chat with me one evening at the beginning of the year, though this was unhelpful in any practical way. Joe’s interest seemed to be more about the Politics (capital ‘P’) of the Co-operative movement, rather than in small co-operative organisations and the grass-roots members of co-operatives.

If Joe’s position is standard, this may explain the seeming lack of interest on the Co-operative Party’s part, regarding the handling of the complaint I submitted – the Co-operative Party is not concerned with real world co-operatives, simply in being part of the ‘Westminster bubble’.

I requested a full list of all the Lambeth Co-op Party councillors from Joe, but he could only tell me that Martin Tiedemann and Florence Nosegbe were Co-op Party members… obviously this was a somewhat desultory effort to provide the information I requested. Doesn’t the chair of the Lambeth branch of the Party have access to this info, or was he simply trying to make things difficult for me?
Eventually I realised that a councillor by councillor trawl through the Lambeth council website provided the names of each Co-op Party member.
Please pass the list to Joe, for his future reference.

In view of Mr Fortune’s un-helpfulness, and the total absence of support from any Co-operative Party councillors in Lambeth, I am now submitting an additional complaint to the Party, against each individual Lambeth Co-op Party councillor.

I would like the Co-operative Party to suspend the individuals named below, pending a formal enquiry, for their actions against the Housing Co-ops in the Borough, and I would like the Co-operative Party to publicly support Lambeth United Housing Co-operative and the remaining Housing Co-op residents.

Below is the list of individuals I am formally submitting this complaint about:

Alexander Holland
Florence Nosegbe
Christopher Wellbelove
Matt Parr
Martin Tiedemann
Paul McGlone
Sally Prentice
Matthew Bennett
Jim Dickson
Mike Smith
Jane Edbrooke
Jack Hopkins
Alex Bigham
Stephen Morgan
Pete Bowyer
David Malley
Mark Harrison
Edward Davie
John Kazantzis
Paul Gadsby

Councillor Christopher Wellbelove, in particular, has behaved dishonourably.

In the run-up to the last council elections, Cllr Wellbelove (along with two other prospective Clapham Town candidates, O’Malley and Haselden) specifically pledged support for our Co-ops. When all three won election, both he and Cllr Nigel Haselden then turned around and voted in support of the eviction of the Co-ops.

Cllr Helen O’Malley stood by her promise to us, only to find herself deselected by the Labour Party. Labour candidate Linda Bray was then parachuted into O’Malley’s place on the election sheet.
It seems, in Lambeth anyway, if you’re in the Labour Party and say what you mean, you’re axed.

Cllr Wellbelove’s behaviour was cynical in the extreme (as was Haselden’s, but he’s not in the Co-op Party).

My new complaint is much the same as the ongoing complaint against Peter Robbins, Lib Peck and Steve Reed, namely that Co-operative councillors in Lambeth are unquestioningly supporting, and actively participating in, the wholesale destruction of co-operative communities involving the displacement of many long-term co-operators and the disintegration of distinct Housing Co-ops and communities that have evolved and developed in Lambeth since the mid 1970s.  

Lambeth council has waged a campaign of misinformation that laid the foundation for the recall of our homes, a process devoid of compassion, co-operation, consultation or vision.  
This process was begun when Lambeth was a Conservative/Lib Dem led council, but it has been carried forward by the current Labour administration.  This immediately raises questions of ideology and motivation.
Ironically, our Housing Co-ops are now supported by the Lib-Dem and Tory Parties in the borough, they acknowledge the importance of our communities and recognise the unfair treatment meted out to us.

As a group, ‘Shortlife’ (though 40 years is hardly a ‘short life’, is it?) Housing Co-ops have been treated with contempt by Lambeth council for many years, so it is ironic that it’s most caustic behaviour has come about since it’s called itself ‘the cooperative council’.

I am a co-operator because I live in a Housing Co-op property.  I have regularly served as an officer of my co-op and I believe that the Housing Co-ops we developed over the past four decades, throughout Lambeth, should be recognised as templates for successful, self-help co-operative community living in urban areas.

However, as soon as I am evicted, I am, by definition, no longer a co-operator.  The actions of Lib Peck, Peter Robbins and Steve Reed, along with the support of the named councillors are forcing me and my fellow co-operators out of the Co-operative movement.

How can the above named members of the Co-operative Party, supposedly my co-operative colleagues, reconcile their actions on behalf of Lambeth council with the Aims and Principles they signed up to when they became Co-operative Party members?

The actions that are demanded of Co-operative Party members who hold office in Lambeth Council are not consistent with the Constitution of the Co-operative Party, and Co-operative Party members should not be authorising or undertaking actions which are inherently destructive to other Co-operative groups.

The behaviour of the current officers at Lambeth council is bringing the term ‘co-operative’ (or ‘cooperative’, as Lambeth spells it) into disrepute.  Furthermore, their intimidatory and bureaucratic behaviour, aligned as they are, individually, with the Co-operative Party, sullies the reputation of the Co-operative Party itself.

There has been a complete lack of consultation with co-op residents, Local Authority ownership of the co-op managed properties is being lost to the private sector and  ‘Shortlife’ co-operators have been treated with disdain and contempt.

Personally, my health is extremely fragile at the moment, the stress of the the situation is doing untold long-term damage to my wellbeing.
I have been told that I am at very high risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack, should I have to go to court to defend possession of my home.

My co-op colleague, SD (I can provide his details on request), of Short Stock Housing Co-op in Clapham North, suffered a heart attack and epileptic seizure just days before he was due in court to defend possession of his home.
SD was in a coma for 2 months. He is now extremely disabled and in a residential facility with round-the-clock care.
His life has been devastated, essentially as a result of the stress caused by Lambeth council’s recall of our homes and the brutal treatment we have been subjected to by the council.

Many of the remaining co-op residents are disabled or elderly, and we are at risk of similar catastrophes. We count on our neighbours for support, we rely on each other. Lambeth council failed to undertake any sort of risk assessment of the effects that the recall would have on the people being evicted, the council had no idea what the ‘fallout’ would be. And even now, having been furnished with details of the terrible consequences of it’s actions, Lambeth council presses on with evictions and sales.

Taking into account the case of SD, coupled with an understanding of the real-life stress and despair caused by the recall of our homes and the threats of eviction and consequent destruction of our essential support networks, the notion that any co-operative principle is being followed by the ‘cooperative council’ or by Co-operative Party councillors in Lambeth, is laughable.

The named councillors have all supported the eviction of co-op residents to progress the sale of Local Authority properties. This action is detrimental to all the remaining  ‘Shortlife’ housing co-op residents in Lambeth and, in wider terms, to the tens of thousands of citizens in Lambeth who are in need of social housing.

I have specified, below, the core values and principles that I believe are being contravened by the Lambeth councillors named.

Co-operative identity, values & principles

Definition
A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.
Values
Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.  In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

Principles
The co-operative principles are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice.
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
Co-operatives are voluntary organisations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.

2. Democratic Member Control
Co-operatives are democratic organisations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership.  In primary co-operatives members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and co-operatives at other levels are also organised in a democratic manner.

3. Member Economic Participation
Members contribute equitably to and democratically control, the capital of their co-operative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the co-operative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing their co-operative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the co-operative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

4. Autonomy and Independence
Co-operatives are autonomous, self-help organisations controlled by their members.  If they enter into agreements with other organisations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their co-operative autonomy.

5. Education, Training and Information
Co-operatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives.  They inform the general public – particularly young people and opinion leaders – about the nature and benefits of co-operation.

6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

7. Concern for Community
Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

The specific rules of the Co-operative Party, that I believe are being contravened, follows:
Rule 2.1

The purpose of the Party is to promote co-operative and mutual forms of economic, social and voluntary organisation, which are based on the principles of mutual ownership and democratic control and to support political action in pursuance of the Values and Principles of the Co-operative Movement in the UK and internationally as defined from time to time by the International Co-operative Alliance.

Rule 3.1

The Party was created to serve the Co-operative Movement of the United Kingdom and it is committed to working in support of the aims of that Movement – Lambeth council, originally under the leadership of Steve Reed, now under the leadership of Lib Peck and with the assistance of Peter Robbins, has steadfastly refused to work with the long-established (and previously supported) Fully Mutual Housing Co-ops in the Borough of Lambeth.

Rule 3.3

The Party is committed to working in co-operation with bodies representing the co-operative and mutual sector in the United Kingdom, in other countries and internationally to achieve their common goals – Lambeth council has refused to negotiate or enter into equitable or meaningful discussions with us, although they repeatedly say publicly that they have done so.

Rule 3.4

In conducting its affairs, the Party shall respect the rights of everyone it deals with, as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union – our communities are being destroyed, our health is being undermined by the actions of the council.  The ‘recall’ process has been going on for almost 20 years!  We have repeatedly been threatened with eviction, though, until recently, these threats were not actioned.  The threats of eviction have constituted intimidatory behaviour for almost two decades.

Rule 4.1

The functions of the Party are to provide goods and services in pursuit of its purpose, including:

Rule 4.1.6

engaging, as principals or agents, in any other business, trade or activity which seems to the Party directly or indirectly in pursuit of its purpose – destroying long established co-ops is not part of the business of the Co-operative Party or it’s members.

Rule 5.1

The Party may do anything which appears to it to be necessary or desirable in connection with its functions.

Rule 5.2

In particular it may:

Rule 5.2.1

acquire and dispose of property – our homes are being disposed of, this reduces the stock of available social housing; adds hundreds of people to an already overwhelmed waiting-list and destroys urban Co-operative communities in Lambeth.

Something that may be of interest to you is the fact that one of the Housing Co-op members threatened with eviction is a woman active in many ways within the Co-operative Movement.  She is a descendant of one of the Rochdale Pioneers and a member for more than 20 years of the Woodcraft Folk, the co-operative youth organisation.  Her co-operative beliefs guide what she does.

This, I feel, sums up the despicable and inherently un-cooperative nature of Lambeth council and the Party members who are willing to act in an appallingly un-cooperative manner.  Their treatment of the long-established and well-loved Housing Co-ops we’ve worked hard to build and maintain over decades, is contemptible.

A new Housing Co-operative, Lambeth United Housing Co-operative, has been registered as a Fully Mutual Housing Co-op, made up of various Lambeth Housing Co-op residents who are still living in their homes and fighting against eviction by Lambeth council.  We are fighting to establish more Co-operative housing in the Borough, in the face of Lambeth’s determination to extinguish Co-operative housing communities altogether.

Trace Newton-Ingham

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