The Crewe branch of the Co-operative Bank. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Co-operative needs to set a higher standard

An open letter to outgoing chief executive Euan Sutherland.

Dear Mr Sutherland,

Congratulations on your resignation! If you do the honourable thing and leave without taking a pay-off, you could save Co-operative members like myself £3.6m in your salary alone over night - an impressively efficient move. 

I know your chair said that your pay-out was what other "comparable companies" offer, but really, most people join the Co-op because it is not a comparable company. At a time when the British public have spent billions bailing out mainstream banks, we kind of wanted something... different?

I know you were also fuming with how your pay was leaked and by the public outrage that has followed - particularly from Co-op members and candidates like myself - but you of all people should know that members are supposed to participate and hold executives to higher standards. That again is kind of the point of being a Co-operative. Plus, we were victorious. It seems that, unlike other banks, members have actually succeeded in removing you when you tried to get paid millions without actually delivering any results. 

Yes, the Co-op needs reform. But our bank didn't fail because it didn't pay its top people enough - it failed because it wasn't co-operative and accountable enough. More transparency and power to members would have dislodged the appalling Mr Flowers long ago. A bigger Co-operative movement would allow a greater and more talented range of board members to choose from. Better worker representation as well as customer representation might help find alternatives to laying off 5,000 staff as in your plan. Similarly, if you'd asked us about boardroom pay in this upcoming survey of yours, and listened, we might not be in this pretty pickle. 

Right now, the Co-op bank - just like all banks and the rest of the country - has a choice. Are we going to carry on with business as usual, handing out huge cheques regardless of success until the next crash, or are we going to fundamentally reform our banking system? It's something George Osborne should think about in the Budget next week, but don't worry, he won't mention it. 

But Co-operators will. Because "The Co-op" is more than just a nice brand. Its a set of ideas and values. We believe in creating a robust and local banking system that is accountable to local people. We believe that participation and shared ownership, not big bonuses, is what leads to better banking. Co-operators work together to be radical, not make isolated decisions to preserve hierarchies between the elites and the rest. We believe it's a time for boldness, not swallowing what failed in 2008.

Of course if you don't believe any of this, then maybe the Co-op isn't for you anyway. But don't worry - sadly you'll still find plenty of banks where you'll fit right in. 

Sincerely,

Rowenna Davis 

Co-operative Labour Candidate for Southampton Itchen

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.