Co-op Group questions party political funding

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Media captionCo-op Group chairman Allan Leighton told the BBC that the business had strayed a long way

The UK's biggest mutual organisation will vote on whether to stop financially supporting the Co-op Party, which has strong ties to Labour.

Politically, one of the most significant announcements alongside the Co-op Group's annual results is the publication of the motions to be put before the annual general meeting on May 16.

Now, this may all seem horrendously dull until you arrive at Motion 9: "political donations".

Effectively, the board is asking the members of the Co-operative Group (that's its customers) whether they want to continue financially supporting the Co-operative Party. Or any party for that matter.

The Co-op Party includes among its members a number of prominent Labour MPs including Ed Balls, Stella Creasy and Chris Leslie. They stand as candidates of both the Co-operative Party and the Labour Party, and the two political movements have strong historical ties.

Last year Co-op Group gave £625,000 to the Co-op Party, a figure that was already down on previous years.

The motion says: "To determine the Society's policy on Political Donations

  • a) Should the Society make any donations to political parties?
  • b) Should the Society only make donations to the Co-operative Party?
  • c) Should the Society make donations across a range of political parties?

The board has carefully not given a view. But it is interesting to note that the new Co-op chairman, Allan Leighton, did sign a letter backing Labour in 2001.

There is also what is called a Members Motion, put forward by those who support continuing political donations of up to £1m a year to "support the objectives of the co-operative movement".

If that is voted through, that would mean the Co-op Group would continue financial support for the Co-op Party.

It is a fascinating debate, which brings together the very different membership model of the Co-op Group and the correct financial balance between business and politics.

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