Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Co-operatives’

CO-OPERATION! The Co-operative Party celebrates its centenary

In A.Graham on July 4, 2017 at 12:29 pm

by Alistair Graham

This year marks the centenary of the foundation of the Co-operative Party. It was born in 1917, in the uncertain years of the First World War, as the conflict was dragging towards its bloody conclusion.

But its roots were sown in earlier years, the years before war engulfed Europe. The co-operative movement was growing rapidly – but the Liberal government was hardly sympathetic to this new movement. Many co-operators believed that it needed a political voice to represent the movement – in Parliament if need be.

There were those who opposed this view, of course. Those who argued that the movement was made up of members of various political (and indeed religious) views. At an early meeting of the Co-operative Congress in 1897 a motion was passed supporting direct representation in Parliament – but such was the lack of any enthusiasm, it was reversed in 1900.

But the issue wouldn’t go away. It was probably the position of the Liberal Government that was in power during the years leading up to the First World War that was a deciding factor. The Liberals may have been the “shopkeepers’ friend” – but this new, strange concept of co-operation was a different matter altogether.

The Liberal Government was definitely hostile to the ideals of co-operation. The notion of sharing out “surplus value” amongst members and giving them a say in how the Co-op was run, was definitely an alien concept. As for the Tories – well, let’s not go down that road!

All this led to the Co-operative Congress of 1917, held in Swansea, passing a resolution that stated the Co-op Movement should have direct representation in Parliament in order to safeguard its interests. There was some opposition of course, but it was passed overwhelmingly.

Success for the new Co-operative Party was slow in coming. The first Co-op candidate to win a seat was A.E. Waterson in Kettering in 1918 – and he soon lost it again (albeit narrowly). .

In 1922, the party won four seats, including that of A.V. Alexander (who went on to become leader of the group in the Commons). Meanwhile, the strength of the Labour Party was growing, and finally the two parties reached a joint agreement.

In more recent years the Co-operative Party has continued to function as an independent body, with its own conferences and policy making bodies. But as for the candidates there has been a tendency for those who stand as “Labour Co-op” candidates to be seen as merely Labour by the electorate.

(Member of the Co-operative Party and the Mid-counties Co-op Society.

A.V. ALEXANDER: A co-operator in Parliament – and outside.

Albert Victor Alexander rose through the Co-operative movement to become the Co-op MP for Sheffield Hillsborough in 1922./ At the time he was one of just four Co-op MPs, but he was to hold his seat (with one short break in the’30s) until 1950.

He became leader of the Co-op parliamentary group and at one time he was a Minister in the in Labour Government of Ramsay Macdonald. But he opposed the cuts introduced in the late 1920s (particularly the cuts in unemployment benefits). He lost his seat in the 1931 election, winning it back in 1933, and resumed his position as leader of the Co-operative Parliamentary group.

In 1950 he retired from the Commons to take up his seat in the House of Lords. Here he continued to represent the cause of co-operation until his death in 1965 at the age of 79.



Co-op In The Forest Under Attack

In A.Graham, Uncategorized on February 23, 2017 at 1:31 pm

According to its critics, the Co-op in the Forest of Dean has been stifling competition, and forcing shoppers to travel out of the area to get a decent deal.

The brunt of the attack on the Co-op centres on plans for a new supermarket on the Steam Mills quarter of Cinderford.  This would of course pose a threat to the Co-op store in the town – as well as the many smaller shops in Cinderford.

The site was once earmarked by Tesco, as part of its expansion into the Forest – but after a long fight (led initially by Somerfield) planning permission was finally rejected at government level.  Later Asda submitted plans for an out of town store at Steam Mills – but then withdrew.

The current application appears to be developer-led. At present no particular supermarket chain has expressed specific interest, but the developers (Trilogy Development)  believe that Asda could be tempted back.

At the time of writing there has been no challenge to what looks like a speculative venture.  But one (Labour) councillor from Cinderford has declared his belief that the Midcounties Co-op would mount a legal challenge.  He went on to say “All people want is choice and I believe the Co-op in Cinderford should be penalised for stifling trade.”

Such accusations seem at this stage to be somewhat gratuitous, and it might well be that it wouldn’t only be the Co-op that would suffer in the town.  It would be all retail trade in the town centre, the small shops, convenience stores, and all the outlets that have offered choice.  It could also affect other such alternative food sources as the“Forest Hub”.  Their future is bleak if more of the big supermarket chains are foisted on the Forest.

It should further be noted that Cinderford had already gained another supermarket. There is also a Lidl in the town, and it’s been trading there for some years.

But the attacks on the Co-op continue.  Another angle is that because of its obstructionist approach it’s forcing shoppers to travel out of town (to Ross-on-Wye for example) in order to do the “shopping of their choice”.  The aforementioned Labour Councillor was quoted in the Forester as saying: “anybody who goes to Morrisons in Ross on any Friday or Saturday afternoon will see more Cinderford people there than on Cinderford High Street.”

This comment is speculative to say the least. As far as I know, there’s been no scientific survey on the weekend shopping habits of Cinderford folk ~ though of course it may be that such shoppers are happy to take a day out in a town like Ross, regardless of such an ambiguous concept as “choice”!

The Co-op is of course deeply rooted in the Forest of Dean. These roots go back to the late 19th Century.  Even today it has four supermarkets in the Dean council area, as well as a number of convenience stores.

But it’s only natural that competition should be increasing. In Lydney there are two other supermarkets apart from the Co-op. In Coleford there’s also a Nisa, and a smaller convenience store – Tesco – in competition with the Co-op.  And much the same pattern is seen in Cinderford.
But still, it seems, some folk want even more supermarkets, and to blazes with the consequences.

First, there’s only so much “competition” that our Forest communities can absorb before retail outlets start to go to the wall. The first will be the smaller specialist shops, such as butchers. bakers, clothes shops, and the smaller retail “general” stores. Then the weaker supermarket stores will suffer – and only the more voracious giants will survive.

It’s not up to me to speculate on the fate of the proposed Steam Mills development.  But a retail economy based solely on supermarket shopping is not a happy trend – particularly when we consider the next trend – one in which all shopping is done “online”,  goods are just shipped from the relevant warehouse to the customer, and we never have to go near a shop or supermarket again.

Then, of course, all diversity will have vanished, and the finger-pointing as to who did what to whom will vanish with it.  And you won’t be able to blame the Co-op!


In A.Graham on May 3, 2016 at 4:33 pm

On March 10th bailiffs and security guards, acting on behalf of local developer, Brian Bennett stormed Yorkley Court Farm. They were there to stage a forcible eviction of the “eco-gardeners” who’d been in occupation of the site for some years.

This was the second attempt by Bennett to evict the occupants – and this time it was in earnest. Farm buildings were trashed, and the iconic tower that stood at the farm entrance was demolished.

Since Mr Bennett mounted his first attempt to take over the farm from the occupants the “eco-gardeners” have gained quite a lot of sympathy from those in the area – many of whom saw the re-vitalisation of the once derelict farm as both a credit to those who’d been working it and an asset to the wider community. Harassment by hired security guards hadn’t helped Mr Bennett’s cause.


Indeed, after the eviction was mounted a walk along a right-of-way through the farm’s fields was hastily organised in sympathy with the “eco-gardeners”. The right-of-way had long been used as a route for local folk to take a stroll or to exercise their dogs. But there’s been a number of complaints of threatening behaviour by security guards towards those engaged in such harmless pursuit.

This support was reflected in the columns of the local press. On the letters page of the Forester, for example, Coun. Andrew Gardner (Lydbrook and Ruardean) reminded readers that the occupants at Yorkley Court had been in residence for six years, “growing organic food and following an environmentally friendly lifestyle”.

yorkleyCourtHe reminded us that the previous owners of the farm had died intestate, but that “relatives gave permission for the community to reside in the grounds”. He went on to suggest that a public inquiry into the whole affair “must urgently be implemented”.

Another letter suggested that scenes surrounding the eviction would lead onlookers to think that it was Al-Qaeda in occupation of Yorkley Court.

Over 70 police officers were counted at one point, some in riot gear. A helicopter flew overhead for the best part of two days. A police presence may well have been justified (if only to keep an eye on Bennett’s security guards), but in this case it looked as though the numbers were there to intimidate.

Letters of support for the eco-warriors continued in the following week’s issue of the Forester – with an added news item pointing out that a footpath adjoining the farm had been closed without notice, “at the request of the police” – in order, it said, to help in the eviction of the occupants.


At the time of writing, the eco-gardeners have left Yorkley Court farm with the defiant message, “our homes are gone but our community will live on.” 16 arrests were made and the homes of the occupants were demolished.


BRIAN BENNETT, the man behind the eviction of the occupants of Yorkley Court Farm, is a developer. His major achievement was the transformation of Vantage Point near Mitcheldean into a busy industrial park after the closure of the Xerox works on the site (Xerox, incidentally, once employed over a thousand at its works there. By the time it closed it was down to about 80).


Over the years Mr Bennett has accrued a wide range of interests to add to Vantage Point. The number of companies he has registered are too numerous to mention here. Some indeed may at present be dormant. But they include the following:

  • Allaston Developments Ltd.
  • “Bee Green Energy Ltd., which was set up to develop wind farms.
  • Whitecroft Properties Ltd, registered in May 2003
  • And, last but by no means least, Yorkley Court Farm Ltd. which was registered on 27th April 2014.

Incidentally, it was on the 29th June 2014 (the same year) that bailiffs and security guards first entered Yorkley Court Farm to try to evict the occupants. On this occasion the confrontation ended in a stand-off, and the security guards were withdrawn. Mr. Bennett, it would seem, has collected a range of irons in his fire.


In Guest Feature on December 22, 2015 at 4:33 pm


This year, the Woodcraft Folk are celebrating their 90th anniversary. Woodcraft was set up in 1925 by a 19-year-old called Leslie Paul, with a handful of boys in South London. It was a breakaway group from Kibbo Kift – which in turn had broken away from the Scouts after the First World War. These early leaders wanted to grow a youth movement which was not militaristic or monarchist. It would be co-educational and promote peace. It would also be run in an open and democratic way.

From the early days, the Woodcraft Folk has had strong links with the Co-operative movement. As early as summer 1925 there is a letter in the Woodcraft archive showing the Woolwich Co-op giving a grant of £5 in order that the first group could buy a tent.

Camping and the outdoor life was and still is an important part of the Woodcraft Folk This part of their philosophy is borrowed from the writer and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton who was writing at the beginning of the 20th Century and set up a proto-scouting group in the USA called “Woodcraft Indians”. To show connection with the natural world, Woodcrafters then would have their own name and a “Folk” name. For example, the founder, Leslie Paul’s Folk name was “Little Otter”. From these humble beginnings, Woodcraft grew to a national organisation with links with similar Socialist and peace youth groups worldwide.


There have been several strands going on this year to mark the 90th Anniversary. There has been a heritage officer appointed who is interviewing members of all ages to create an oral history of the organisation, together with the annual gathering in September at Wales by Scout Park in the Midlands where there were workshops and meetings.

In June this year, I enjoyed the London and South East Region pageant to mark the anniversary. There were several tents to mark the different decades that the Woodcraft Folk had grown through and crafts and activities in each of those tents. I was in the 1980s tent, and ran an activity with Richard, Shona and Rowan about Greenham Common. Families came and made peace symbols to tie to our fence as women had done at Greenham There were also co-operative games such as the “Tug of Peace” and a potato and spoon race to make it vegan friendly!

Jeremy Corbyn came to cut the anniversary cake with its Woodcraft symbol on. Jeremy told us that when his children were young they had been “Woodies” and it was good to remember that there were people in the world standing up for peace.

Woodcraft’s motto is “Span the world with friendship”, an aim which is as relevant today as it was following the Great War. Happy Woodcraft – and we look forward to celebrating the centenary!

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on March 5, 2015 at 7:12 pm



G4S and the Guantanamo connection:

Did you know that our old friends at G4S had been involved in security work at the notorious US holding camp at Guantanamo Bay?

No, nor did I. It seems that it won a lucrative £70 million contract last August to service the base, where 127 inmates are still being held without charge. What we don’t know of course is whether the company’s personnel were in any way involved with any of the torture practises carried out by US guards on those held there – such as “water boarding”, sleep deprivation or force feeding.

But it seems that G4S has since disposed of  its contract. At the end of 2014 it sold on its US subsidiary – which included its Guantanamo connection.  Now the civil rights group, Reprieve, has taken up the case, and referred the matter to the police. Amnesty International has also called for a full investigation.

Of course we don’t know what role G4S fulfilled in Guantanamo. But it does seem rather – er – injudicious to get involved in this notorious holding centre in the first place.

How fares the BNP?

We hear little of the British National Party (the BNP) these days. Its halcyon days were around 2008 to 2009, when it succeeded in winning over 50 council seats around the country, a seat on the London Assembly and two MEPs (including party leader Nick Griffin).

But then it all fell apart. It failed to win any parliamentary seats in 2010, and subsequently its tally of councillors just melted away. It lost both its seats in the European Parliament, and finally last Autumn, Nick Griffin found himself expelled from the party – and that seemed to be that.

But a visit to the relevant website indicates that the rump of the party is still active. And in one constituency members have been dishing out leaflets door to door, proclaiming that the “BNP is the Labour Party your Grandad would have voted for”.

Really?? I don’t think so!

It’s grim in Gloucester:

Recent figures published on the state of the economy broken down  city by city suggests that the North has been blighted most from austerity and recession – just like it was back in the hungry ‘thirties. Places like Rochdale or Hull, for instance, have been hard hit.. Meanwhile others, like Milton Keynes, London and Brighton are doing much better, thanks.

But one blip in the statistics caught my rheumy old eye. Bottom of the league table when it came to jobs was our own city of Gloucester. Here there was a decline in available jobs of 12 percent – even worse than Rochdale, home of the Co-op Pioneers and Gracie Fields.

That’s not the kind of picture you’re given if you read the business section of The Citizen is it?  Here you’d think that the city was on a roll.

But long gone are the days when the city was an industrial hub. It turned out Cotton motorbikes, the Gloucester Wagon Company made railway rolling stock that was sold across the world – and “England’s Glory” matches were on sale throughout the country.

Off the peg:

CND has started the new year with a vigorous campaign against the renewal of our Trident nuclear missile system. It’s an off-the-peg system, where we buy the missiles from the Americans – but, what with the submarines, it still costs loadsa money.

Hardened CND veterans may remember the days when Britain attempted to go it alone. Remember the campaigns against the Blue Streak missile? Or the Polaris submarine system? Not to mention Cruise missiles? They’ve all been consigned to the dustbin of history. Isn’t it time Trident joined them?


MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on November 11, 2014 at 11:35 am

Caught up in the NATO circus:

Well, the NATO summit jamboree in Newport has been and gone. The delegates have departed, the high security fences have been taken away, along with all those spooky black-uniformed cops.

I confess that I missed much of it. Whilst the delegates plus their entourages were flying in to Bristol airport, we were flying out – for a brief visit to Denmark to see family.

At the airport we failed to  see any of the delegates, so I wasn’t able to ask for any autographs. They were kept safely away in a separate part of the terminal.  But the place was still chock-a-block with police. No “low profile” for them it seems. Unlike me. I tried to mingle unobtrusively.

Whilst we were waiting for our Easyjet flight to Copenhagen, though, I did accidentally bump in to one large gun-toting cop. Briefly I felt cold metal jab into my ribs. I stuttered a quick apology and fled.

Meanwhile, our MP Mark Harper has described NATO as a force for “peace”. It’s no such thing of course. It was a product of the Cold War, an alliance of western powers to present a common armed response to the “Soviet threat”. In response, the other side formed the Warsaw Pact – and a dangerous nuclear arms race was initiated.

With the collapse of the USSR, any perceived need for NATO disappeared, one would’ve thought, into oblivion. It should have been quietly retired, but instead its backers have turned into a kind of roving police force ready to act on behalf of  its sponsors, wherever the fancy takes them

Having it in for the Co-op:

I was gob-smacked when I saw the front page of the Citizen back at the end of August.

Taking up the whole page was a piece headlined in red, “194,000”.  That, it said, was the “bill so far as council fends off Co-op’s Asda challenge.”

Beneath the headline was an artist’s picture of the giant Asda megastore planned for Cinderford. I don’t know how other folk reacted, but it scared me. Asda don’t build small. And it takes no prisoners.

It seems that the Citizen is telling us that it’s the Co-op’s fault that all this taxpayers’ cash has been spent.   In other words, the Co-op is not entitled to fight its corner against a giant that threatens the whole shopping centre of Cinderford.  After all, it’s not only the Co-op’s future that’s at stake, but also all the smaller convenience stores or speciality shops that exist in town.

In Cinderford, the Midcounties Co-op won its legal battle, at least for now. But as far as the District Council’s concerned, they could have saved all this money by not backing Asda’s application  in the first place.

Who’s paying for those deep-fried Mars Bars??

One of the more ludicrous attacks on the Scots’ independence campaign came from Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire. In the Sun newspaper (where else?), she asked, “Why are we paying them (ie the Scots) to eat deep-fried Mars bars when we can’t even get decent healthcare in this country?

Personally I think this image of obese Scots all tucking into deep-fried Mars bars is a bit of an urban myth, But what I think Ms. Dorries is getting at is that “we” are having to pay for them all to be treated under the NHS.

But of course Scotland has its own Health Service – and how much deep-fried Mars bars addicts cost to be treated is, I feel, an unknown quantity. Rather low down on the list of priorities, I reckon. But Nadine Dorries told the Sun that as a story “it’s going to be explosive”. Rather like a damp squib, perhaps?

Incidentally, I noticed that Glasgow (alleged home of the deep fried Mars bar) voted by 55 per cent to 45 for independence in the referendum.  Edinburgh, though, voted the other way.

But I don’t think it had anything to do with Mars bars, deep-fried or otherwise.




In A.Graham on January 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Did the Co-op forget its way? by Alistair Graham

As friends will be happy to agree, I’m a firm supporter of the co-operative principle, and indeed the Co-op movement (with a capital “C”). So it distresses me to criticise those within the movement who take their eye off the ball (temporarily at least), and lose sight of what being a co-operator is all about.

I’m talking about the Co-operative Bank, of course, and its current plight. In what seemed to me to be a slightly gloating piece in the Independent on Sunday (10th November), Julian Knight, “personal finance adviser”, declared that “the mutual concept (i.e., the co-operative ideal) is all but dead.” He concluded that “we need a full enquiry into what has gone on at the Co-op.”

Suchan enquiry is already under way.   But perhaps it’s fairly easy to see what went wrong with our bank. Those responsible for running the Co-op Bank on our behalf lost sight of the movement’s goals. Like Icarus, they decided that they could soar into the capitalist heavens – and instead crashed down to earth.


It all began when the directors decided that they could expand profitably and play with the big boys, by taking over some 600 branches of Lloyds Bank. But then a gaping hole in the Co-op Bank’s own finances was revealed. It was the result of a previous takeover of the Britannia Society, which had managed to lumber itself with toxic debts – which, it seemed had been overlooked at the time of the takeover. This, together with a directive from on high that the Co-op Bank should increase its liquidity levels combined to drive it to the wall.

Inevitably, the media has had a field day with the misdemeanours of former director and non-executive chairman of the bank, the Rev. Paul Flowers. He has been made a scapegoat in all this – though in fact the part that he played has been minor compared to some. Little mention has been made of the Bank’s accountants KPMG, for example, who failed to warn of the black hole in the Britannia Building Society’s accounts. It seemed that they felt it wasn’t within their remit! Or of the former head of the Co-op Group, who was a driving force behind the bank’s bid for expansion.

But now 70 per cent of our bank is to be controlled by hedge fund managers – the enemy which is anathema to the ethos of co-operation. Someone must really be laughing all the way to the bank. Particularly as much of their money is in offshore accounts.

It’s not the first time that the Co-operative movement has faced such a crisis – though it could be the most serious. We could go back to 1997, when an ambitious young entrepreneur called Andrew Reagan persuaded enough directors on the board of the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) to sell all its food manufacturing factories to a company that he headed called Hobsons. He then made a further bid, to take over the CWS lock stock and barrel. If he had succeeded, all its assets would have been snatched from the membership and used for private speculative gain.  But Reagan had over-reached himself , the movement was alerted and his bid failed.

In more recent times, the Co-operative Group hatched a merger of its travel operations with those of Thomas Cook. There were concerns about how such a merger would work – yoking together a “mutual”, owned by its members with a capitalist company owned by shareholders. But the deal went ahead – but then it was discovered that Cooks were in financial difficulties. Incidentally, it should be made clear that our own Midcounties Co-operative Society did not get involved with the deal – and since then has managed to build up and develop its own travel business quite successfully.


As for the Co-operative Bank, its history goes back well over a century, when it was founded as the CWS Bank, to serve the Co-operative Movement, its individual societies and later its millions of members. In 1992 it introduced its customer-led ethical policy, which in turn attracted many more to switch to the Co-op.


As for the assertion that “the mutual concept is all but dead”, such a claim denies history, a history that goes back at least to the Rochdale Pioneer in 1844. They were building something new, a counter to the rampant capitalism of the day. They wanted their ideals to permeate every aspect of society, to give people control over their lives – and build a “co-operative commonwealth”.

These ideals are still with us, including the presence of credit unions and building societies. Indeed the Co-operative movement is now worldwide.

As for the fate of the Co-op Bank, a campaign to save it has been launched by the magazine Ethical Consumer. It has been gaining support – and though the disposal of the Co-op Bank to private investors may be a done deal, we should at least ensure that the predators who now own a controlling share know that we’re not taking it lying down. And we should campaign for its return to mutual ownership.

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