Friday, 19 December 2014

Bricks and Windows

I like Daniel Finkelstein's regular columns in The Times and this offering is a perfect example because he has a great ability to laugh at himself and others without being malign, bitter or downright nasty.

The same arguments have applied to trade unions for years, of course, because in far too many cases trade unions are just 'chum clubs' run by tiny groups of activists who share the same narrow political agenda (Labour supporting in the main) and certainly don't represent the wider views of ordinary union members.

But I wonder what Daniel thinks of the recent upsurge in the SNP's membership in Scotland which is fast approaching 100,000 apparently, from around 20,000 in September 2014 before the independence referendum?

Because if these figures were scaled-up to a UK level they suggest a party membership of around 1 million members completely dwarfing the Conservative and Labour parties, never mind the Lib Dems.  

I loved the story of the frustrated woman who threw a brick through her own window, by the way, and no matter what the provocation of North Lanarkshire Council over equal pay, I would urge regular readers and A4ES claimants in North Lanarkshire to refrain from doing the same.

We shall overcome, as they say. 

Ukip hasn’t got the monopoly on fruitcakes 

By Daniel Finkelstein - The Times

As membership of political parties dwindles, the danger grows that the weird and the wacky will gain more influence

By the time it had reached its final conference in Coventry, in 1990, the Social Democratic party was in a sorry state. Its support had entirely disappeared and it had almost no members.

The lack of interest in proceedings was such that speakers from the floor had to be told to keep talking in order to avoid embarrassing gaps in the programme. And when, at the end of the affair, the platform party stood to applaud the leader, we moved our chairs back and knocked over the stage set, a collapsing backdrop providing the perfect metaphor for our political position.

Even more vivid than this catastrophe is my memory of the preceding meeting of the national executive, a committee on which I then sat. A leading activist, taken seriously as a tribune of the few remaining members, announced that her frustration was intense. She simply could not believe that voters were unable to tell the difference between that Social Democratic party (us) and the Social and Liberal Democrats (not us).

She then explained that on local election day her anger at this confusion had reached such a pitch that “I went outside my front door and threw a brick through my own window”. There was a barely perceptible pause, and then the meeting continued as if nobody had said anything untoward.

I thought of this moment when I read the story of Natasha Bolter, the former Ukip candidate who can’t recall how many children she has or what her age is, variously claims that she is divorced or that her husband is dead, wrongly claims to have been a student at a university that has no record of her, and has embroiled the party in a sex scandal about which the truth has proven elusive.

Despite being — let’s put this delicately — a somewhat unreliable personality, Ms Bolter came close to selection for a seat in which Ukip believes it has a chance of winning.

I think this incident is unlikely to change the political situation much. Voters do not follow such stories closely. I do, however, think it was significant. And not really because of what it had to say about Ukip. I think the Bolter question is one for all of us.

Doctrinaire political parties or those promoting novel doctrines are particularly susceptible to cranks. An unconventional outlook and a feeling that you know something that has passed everyone else by is universal. This doesn’t mean, of course, that everyone is a fantasist, but it can be hard to tell when someone is.

Since the entire point of a new party is to represent people ignored by the traditional parties, those who see things a bit, well, differently are at a premium. People with hobby horses feel right at home.

One of my parliamentary campaign team in the SDP/Liberal Alliance used to contact me every day with further evidence that Aids was caused by yeast extract and being spread by the government. He was sure that if I got on to the issue we could “break the mould” of politics. He held a senior role in the constituency organisation.

And if the founding principle of the party is that the others compromise too much and are too flexible with their principles, it isn’t surprising that you end up gathering together quite a lot of argumentative people who think that nobody can see reason except for them.

The other thing that makes parties vulnerable to eccentrics is if they are small. In the dying days of the SDP, as in the early days of Ukip, someone could move from being a novice to being in the leadership team within weeks. It is hard to subject them to the scrutiny that is required. In the 1960s the entire Liberal youth wing was taken over by far-left activists who sent a message from their national conference to Chairman Mao, congratulating him on his murderous cultural revolution.

Yet if this was merely a matter of fringe parties, or maturing ones, the issue wouldn’t matter as much as it does. In fact, the singularity of party political activists is much more important than this makes it sound.

Joining a political party may once have been a mainstream decision, something millions did. No longer. The number of members of the major political parties is dwindling fast.

As a result, the very act of joining marks you out as unusual, however level-headed you may otherwise be, because you show an interest in party politics that is abnormal. My wife, for instance, points out that on our first date I spent quite a bit of the evening talking about David Steel.

And no matter what you are like, a political party, a bit like a church, has to take you in. I once asked a member to help stuff envelopes, only to find 30 minutes later that he’d been scrunching up my election address into a ball before sticking on the address label. I also had to apologise to some voters because one of my canvassers had started screaming at them about their stupidity when they said that they weren’t sure whether to support me.

In my campaigns I’ve been very lucky. I’ve made good friends. I have met many superb, intelligent people in local politics. Yet also a reasonable number who are neither. Which is where the danger lies.

At the moment, the Labour and Conservative parties are still reasonably big organisations. This doesn’t make it impossible for an entirely unsuitable person to become a candidate in a winnable seat. Indeed in the next door seat to the one where I live, a marginal, the Conservatives chose an apparently boring, normal candidate who then went round at night, spray painting swear words on to the cars and front doors of anyone who crossed him. The local newspaper editor, for instance, and the Liberal Democrat candidate.

The size does, however, lessen the chances of this happening. Yet for how long? If party membership continues its decline, soon all the parties will end up like Ukip — accelerating unknown people into office because they are desperate to have, basically, anybody. Becoming hostage to any old person who is ambitious and has an axe to grind.

Our political system is highly dependent — too dependent — on the integrity and stability of its parties. We need to open up the system and ensure a small cadre of activists do not have a disproportionate influence.

Before he joined Ukip, the MP Douglas Carswell advocated open primaries for parliamentary candidates. He doesn’t seem to be following this up. It’s a shame. He was right.

Spotlight on Sentencing

A young man's reckless driving snuffs out the lives of two women who were on their way to the local supermarket.

Turns out that the driver James Clunie (36) had appeared in court on no less than 46 times since the age of 26 and had been disqualified from driving on three previous occasions, yet he was handed only a five year sentence - 3 years and 2 months for the two deaths he caused and 21 months for the lesser charge of dangerous driving.

Now there's something wrong with the law when a person can behave so recklessly, in a manner that is bound to place innocent lives at risk, and still be treated as if the deaths were caused by an 'accident'.

Because they were actually caused by the unbelievably irresponsible behaviour of someone who, by consistently driving at such high speed, was effectively in charge of a deadly weapon.

James Clunie jailed for killing Jane MacDonald and Abby Hucknall in Fife

Clunie admitted causing the deaths of Abby Hucknall and Jane MacDonald

A speeding driver who killed two women on a pedestrian crossing in Fife has been jailed for almost five years and banned from driving for a decade.

James Clunie knocked down Jane MacDonald and Abby Hucknall as they went to a shop in Kirkcaldy in 2012.

The 36-year-old, who has been disqualified from driving on three previous occasions, was driving a Land Rover Discovery.

It was fitted with a tracker device which monitored speed and data.

The device showed that in the five weeks before the crash he had been driving at speeds of up to 115mph on "A" roads and at more than three times the 20mph limit through a village.


Brian McConnachie, defending, said Clunie was remorseful.

He added: "He understands that no matter the sentence your Lordship imposes in this case, he can't undo what he's done. He deeply regrets his actions."

Passing sentence at the High Court in Livingston, Judge Lord Turnbull, described the father-of-three's attitude to the safety of other road users as "utterly contemptuous".

"It is clear from the moment you took temporary possession of the Land Rover Discovery motor vehicle you consistently drove it in an utterly reckless and irresponsible manner, as exemplified by your driving at 72mph in a 20mph limit; almost 90mph on a stretch of road with a 40mph limit, and frequently driving in excess of 100mph on stretches of road limited to 60mph or 70mph.

"The degree of danger foreseeably created by consistently driving in this manner was obvious, and you posed a serious risk to the safety of the public throughout that whole period."

He pointed out Clunie had appeared in court 46 times since he was 16 and had been disqualified from driving on three previous occasions.

Despite the driving bans he had been convicted again for speeding shortly before the fatal accident in Dunnikier Way on 27 November 2012.

Ms MacDonald, 38, and Ms Hucknall, 18, were walking to Asda when they were killed.

He jailed Clunie for three years and two months for causing death by careless driving and added a further 21 months for the dangerous driving offence.

Miss Hucknall's relatives earlier paid tribute to her in a statement which said: 'Abby's family are devastated by this tragic loss. She was a very bubbly, caring and beautiful girl, a much loved daughter, sister and granddaughter who will be sorely missed by all who knew her."

Bring Back Our Girls

Political corruption is commonplace in many African countries, sadly, but this report from The Sunday Times still has the power to shock with its tale of an aid worker, Mustapha Maidugu, who has been imprisoned without charge for two months by Nigeria's State Security Service (SSS). 

So much for supporting the 'bring back our girls' campaign which flourished for a while but has disappeared from view in recent months, but is it any wonder if Nigeria's SSS is secretly  doing the bidding of Boko Haram.

In solitary for helping Boko Haram girls

By George Arbuthnott and Miles Amoore - The Sunday Times
Stephen Davis and Mustapha Maidugu, standing second from left

AN AID worker who helps girls who have escaped imprisonment by Boko Haram has been imprisoned without charge by Nigeria’s secret police.

The move has reignited claims that the country’s senior political figures are giving clandestine support to the Islamist militants.

Mustapha Maidugu, a humanitarian worker who was gathering video testimony of the girls’ ordeal inside a Boko Haram camp, has been held in solitary confinement in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, for more than two months.

It is believed he was arrested because of his ties with Dr Stephen Davis, an Australian hostage negotiator and close friend of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has repeatedly accused powerful Nigerian figures of bankrolling Boko Haram.

Davis, the former canon emeritus at Coventry Cathedral, alleges that Ali Modu Sheriff, the British-educated ex-governor of Borno state, uses Boko Haram as a proxy to gain control over oil-rich land straddling the borders of northern Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

Davis says the State Security Service (SSS) is now “doing the bidding” of Sheriff. The ex-governor and the SSS have reportedly denied the allegations.​

Maidugu’s incarceration comes amid a spate of attacks by female teenage suicide bombers in northern Nigeria, which have killed more than 80 people in recent weeks.

There are fears that at least some of these suicide bombers had been kidnapped by Boko Haram and were either brainwashed or blackmailed into committing the attacks.

Maidugu has lodged a formal legal appeal against his detention, according to court documents seen by The Sunday Times.

His lawyer, Baba Gana Shettima, says he is being held at the SSS’s headquarters.

Davis, who for the past eight years has helped the Nigerian government negotiate with the terrorists, says Maidugu is one of four aid workers he has worked with who have been arrested since he accused Sheriff of sponsoring Boko Haram.

“The SSS has arrested people who have been supporting girls who have been kidnapped, raped and abused but managed to escape from Boko Haram camps,” said Davis. In 2004 the Australian worked alongside Justin Welby, now the Archbishop of Canterbury, in helping to resolve conflicts between oil companies and local militias in the Niger Delta.

Davis said the security service was “interrogating these young men in order to intimidate the general population and ensure Sheriff is free to continue his sponsorship of Boko Haram”.

Shettima said: “Any person who has had contact with Stephen is being arrested.”

Sheriff, who studied finance at the London School of Business, is said to own a fleet of private jets and luxury cars.

'Poofters' and Painkillers

Here's how the BBC reported the resignation of another 'fruitcake' from UKIP, Kerry Smith, who was forced to step down as a UKIP Parliamentary candidate over vile and offensive remarks he made in a phone call, which he had the bare-faced cheek to blame on painkillers.

Now hardly a day goes by without someone from UKIP demonstrating that the party is full of complete 'chancers' and hopelessly inadequate people who are 'on the make' in one way or another.

So while UKIP does seem to have a measure of support in England and Wales, I think it's fair to say that the Ukippers have a serious credibility problem when it comes to running anything, perhaps with the exception of a piss-up in a brewery.

And as for Kerry Smith, he sounds like the kind of chap who would give an aspirin a headache.

Kerry Smith quits as UKIP parliamentary candidate

Kerry Smith has resigned as a UKIP prospective parliamentary candidate after apologising for offensive remarks he made in a phone call.

He was selected to fight the South Basildon and East Thurrock seat after ex-Tory MP Neil Hamilton pulled out.

In a recording obtained by the Mail On Sunday, Mr Smith made offensive remarks about gay people, other UKIP members and Chigwell in Essex.

He later issued a "wholehearted and unreserved apology".

UKIP leader Nigel Farage told BBC News that Mr Smith had resigned "by mutual consent", and described his behaviour as "loutish and wholly inappropriate".

He said UKIP had had "great difficulty" with the Basildon selection, adding: "The party has got to grip this and sort it out, in short order".

Mr Farage also said UKIP's national executive committee had the power to impose a candidate if it wanted.

Negative headlines

UKIP hopes to make a serious challenge for the South Basildon and East Thurrock seat in the forthcoming general election, in which it is seeking to win a handful of seats and potentially hold the balance of power.

But Mr Smith's resignation, four days after he was re-adopted as a candidate, capped a week of negative headlines for the party.

Mr Hamilton pulled out of contention for the seat amid questions raised by the party over his expenses while another candidate, Natasha Bolter, withdrew amid an investigation into allegations she made against Mr Bird, whose job is to vet election candidates.

Following his resignation on Sunday, Mr Smith said in a statement: "I want the best for South Basildon and Thurrock and I want to see the real issues discussed that touch the lives of people.

"Therefore I have chosen to resign so that UKIP can win this seat next May."

Analysis by BBC political editor Nick Robinson

A parliamentary candidate resigns having tried blaming his racist comments on taking painkillers.

This comes days after an alleged sex scandal at UKIP Head Office in which the party's chief executive did - or did not - sleep with another candidate.

Meantime a wealthy donor is said to be threatening to stop funding the party if his friend doesn't get a seat. You may think that UKIP's week of bad headlines is just a diverting soap opera.

You may think it simply shows the growing pains of Britain's fastest growing political force. You may think it has no significance at all. If so, you'd be wrong.

During the recorded conversation, Mr Smith talks about UKIP's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) group. He can be heard jokingly referring to it as BLT UKIP, and adds "what the old poofter groups call themselves".

He jokes about "shooting peasants" from the Essex town of Chigwell and supporting "a peasant's hunt through Chigwell village".
Kerry Smith became UKIP's candidate in South Basildon after ex-Tory MP Neil Hamilton (left) quit the race

A UKIP spokesman confirmed to the BBC that Mr Smith had apologised to Mr Farage for allegations made against him during the phone call - which Mr Smith has since retracted.

UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe, the party's immigration spokesman, said that "racist and homophobic language" would not be tolerated.

"When there is someone who has come out and expressed these type of views, which I abhor and dislike intensely, we have acted rapidly and we have got them out," he told Radio 4's Today programme.

'Ordinary people'

UKIP's candidates, he claimed, were "ordinary people" who did not have the media training that their political rivals had and sometimes had to be "guided".

But he insisted the way the party was dealing with problems as they arose showed how it had matured.

"What we have seen over the last ten days is that UKIP has grown up rather dramatically," he added.

Mr Smith stood for UKIP in the Basildon seat in 2010, where he came fourth behind the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems.

But the party now regards the seat as one that it could possibly win and the selection process is now likely to be re-opened.

After Mr Hamilton withdrew his candidacy for the Basildon seat earlier this week, Channel 4 reported seeing a letter from UKIP's finance committee querying expenses claims made by him.

Mr Hamilton, UKIP's deputy chairman, said his decision to withdraw from the Basildon selection process was nothing to do with expenses, but that it was a UKIP "dirty trick" to stitch him up.

Independent Scrutiny

Here's an interesting Press Release from the Department for Communities and Local Government in England and Wales which calls on local councils to be more open about what their senior officials earn by way of salaries and lucrative bonuses.

The point being that local councils should be in a position to show that the salary packages of senior officials represent value for money for the taxpayer and, presumably, that the top brass are not being treated more favourably than the rest of the workforce.

I think I'll send a copy to the leaders of North Lanarkshire Council.  

Government has grounded excessive town hall pay but councils must do more to prove value of senior staff

From:Department for Communities and Local Government

Eric Pickles calls on councils to be more open about top earners.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles today (13 December 2014) called on councils to be more open about top earners and prove to taxpayers they are getting value for money from 6-figure salaries and lucrative bonuses.

This government’s focus on excessive pay has brought about a pay restraint among the vast majority of councils reducing the number of town hall staff on inflated salaries and ending an era of boomerang bosses. However, latest figures for the UK suggest more than 2,000 town hall staff were still taking home more than £100,000 a year.

The coalition government has already changed the law to provide greater transparency in town halls and give local taxpayers the information they need to hold councils to account about how they spend their money.

Councils must publish details about pay matters every year, while senior appointments and severance payments of £100,000 have to go to a full council vote.

Mr Pickles has now instructed his officials to look at how guidance can be amended to achieve even greater transparency on top earners.

Responding to a select committee report on senior pay in local government, the Secretary of State was clear councils must now come clean about how they appraise the performance of top earners. They will also have to explain the reason behind lucrative bonuses and how they deal with poor performance.

Co-op is Crap

If this report from the BBC is anything to go by, I think I made the right decision in shutting my account with the Co-op Bank.

The Co-op seems to take a keen interest in politics with its donations to the Labour Party and its intervention in the Scottish independence referendum which had nothing to do with the Co-op's core business, if you ask me. 

So I voted with my feet and took my business elsewhere while the stress levels within the Bank must be reaching record levels.

Co-op Bank fails Bank of England stress tests

By Joe Miller - BBC News

The Co-operative Bank has failed a "stress test" by the Bank of England that assessed major UK lenders' ability to withstand another financial crisis.

A further two banks - Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland - were found to be at risk in the event of a "severe economic downturn".

The Bank of England tested the lenders' resilience to a 35% fall in house prices, and a 30% drop in the value of the pound, among other factors.

Five major banks passed the test.

The results show that the banking system is "significantly more resilient", said Bank of England governor Mark Carney, and that the "growing confidence in the system is merited".

"This was a demanding test," he added.

Stress test scenario

  • Sterling falls by about 30%
  • House prices fall by 35%
  • Bank rate rises to 4.2%
  • CPI inflation peaks at 6.6%
  • Unemployment rises to nearly 12%
  • GDP falls by 3.5%
  • Share prices fall by 30%
In the first test of its kind, eight UK banks and building societies were assessed by the Prudential Regulation Authority, which is a part of the Bank of England.

HSBC, Barclays, Santander, Standard Chartered and Nationwide all passed.

The doomsday scenario mapped out by the Bank of England included an unemployment rate of nearly 12%, inflation rising to more than 6%, and interest rates rising to 4.2%.

The Bank emphasised that the scenario was "extreme", and was not likely to materialise.

'No surprise'

The Co-operative Bank, which had to be rescued last year after a £1.5bn black hole was found in its balance sheet, was the only bank deemed to require a "revised capital plan".

The chief executive of Co-operative Bank, Niall Booker, said it was "no surprise" that the lender had not passed the test, but said the Bank was on track to "significantly reduce risk-weighted assets".

The Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group - both of which were bailed out by the taxpayer during the financial crisis, were found to be in need of further strengthening.

But the Bank of England stopped short of requiring them to submit new plans, as both lenders are already taking action to reduce risks.

The Bank of England's stress tests built on similar health checks by the European Banking Authority (EBA) in October.

The EBA found that 24 European banks needed to shore up their finances.

Four UK banks were subjected to the EBA test: Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays. They all passed.

Analysis: Kamal Ahmed, BBC business editor

The Bank of England has made it clear that its doomsday scenario is not something that it thinks is likely to happen at the moment.

It is an attempt to replicate the bad news piled upon bad news such as occurred in 2008.

And given that the present risks in the economy include a collapse in the oil price and possible deflation in the eurozone, some argue that the Bank is testing the wrong thing.

Co-op is Crap (29 August 2014)

I noticed that the chief executive of the Co-operative Bank, Niall Booker, was one of the signatories to a letter from business 'leaders' urging a No vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

Now I don't know Niall Booker personally, but I had occasion to write to him recently and as I wasn't in the least convinced by his answer I am no longer a customer of the bank.

Here are a few posts from the blog site archive which explain why I think the Co-op is crap.   

Co-op Bank (10 December 2013)

I said the other day that I would write a letter of complaint to the Co-op Bank over its financial support for the Labour Party - so here's a copy of the letter I sent by email to the Co-op Bank's chief executive, Niall Booker, the other day.

To my mind, banks should stay out of party politics - all banks not just the Co-op.

If individuals want to give their own money to the Labour Party or some other party, then that's up to them - and that's how it should be with the trade unions as well, if you ask me.    

Niall Booker
Chief Executive
Co-op Bank

Dear Niall

The Co-op and Party Politics

I am a customer (saver) with the Co-op Bank to which my account was transferred from the now defunct Britannia Building Society.

I am sure you have your hands full at the moment with the fall-out from this terrible Reverend Flowers business, but I would like to let you know how much I resent and disapprove of the Co-op Bank getting so heavily involved in party politics.

To my mind, it is completely wrong for the Co-op Bank to be giving 'soft loans' or financial donations to the Labour Party such as the £50,000 handed over recently to the office of Ed Balls MP, Labour's shadow chancellor. The money involved belongs to the Co-op's customers and, in my view, it is quite outrageous for the company's funds to be used in this way. 

I imagine the appointment of the Reverend Paul Flowers as Chairman of the Co-op Bank had something to do with his party political connections to the Labour Party and clearly this gentleman's out-of-control, hypocritical behaviour is doing considerable damage to the Co-op's public image.

So, I hope you will see the importance of putting your customers first and putting an end to these party political shenanigans, otherwise I will be taking my business elsewhere.

I look forward to your reply.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine

Co-op is Crap

I'm glad my mind is finally made up.

I am going to close my account and take my business elsewhere because the Co-op is crap and can't face up to reality, if this report from the BBC is to be believed - and I have to say it makes perfect sense to me.

The dozen or so independent societies which combine to form the Co-op across the UK seem completely out of their depth to me, otherwise the business would not be in the mess it finds itself in today.

And while I'm no admirer of the House of Lords at least Lord Myners took on the challenge of trying to reorganise and bring some sense to the Co-op's operations for a salary of £1, so he appears to be driven by the right motives.

But still the 'independent' societies within the Co-op seem intent on re-arranging the deck chairs, as the SS Co-op bears down on the iceberg ahead.    

So, I'm off as they say although I wish all the very best to those who stay on board because I think they'll need a lot of luck in the days ahead.   

Why Co-op's woes are deepening

By Kamal Ahmed

Sent on 7 March, the covering letter from the Midcounties Co-operative, was suitably polite. "If you would like further information on the points raised, please let me know."

The letter was to Lord Myners, the former city minister charged with coming up with a plan to overhaul Co-op Group. With the letter was Midcounties' submission to Lord Myners' review.

In forensic detail the submission picks apart the main arguments contained in the initial plans for change. It is also provides stark evidence that here is an organisation that agrees it needs to reform - it just doesn't agree how.

"In recent years Midcounties has observed a failure at the most senior levels in the Group . . . to consistently reflect co-operative values and principles and the best standards of good governance and transparency," says the submission, which I have seen.

"This was not just a matter of errors of judgement over particular business decisions but also, more crucially, of a fundamentally flawed vision of the future of the movement which led to risk taking of a kind which was inappropriate and unnecessary in the context of co-operative ownership."

Midcounties is an important player in this game, the largest of the Co-op's independent societies with revenues of £1.2bn and more than 10,000 employees. The dozen independent societies across the UK have more than 20% of the voting rights on the group board and five are represented at group level. What they say matters for the future of the Co-op.

The background, as we know, is grim. As my colleague Robert Peston revealed last February Co-op Group is likely to report losses of up to £2bn when it reveals its 2013 figures next week.

The supermarkets, pharmacies and funerals business needs to change its model to survive. Many criticise a byzantine governance structure which critics say rewards longevity, skill at internal politics and willingness to attend endless committee meetings, above managerial skills.

Over the last decade, Co-op expanded rapidly, buying Somerfield supermarkets and the Britannia building society. Its structure simply couldn't cope.

Lord Myners - a non-executive board member of Co-op Group - is now on a listening tour, refining his initial proposals which focus on bringing in outside directors and giving the Co-op some of the checks and balances more akin to a publicly listed company. As The Guardian reports this morning, Midcounties has already voted against the reforms, with its president, Patrick Gray, saying that they will not support the "menu" that Lord Myners is offering.
Lord Myners has several proposals for the future of Co-op Group

Mr Gray, whom I spoke to yesterday and who made an appearance on the Today programme and BBC Radio 5 live this morning, is most concerned that by changing the governance structure, the very democratic and "values-led" DNA of the present Co-op might be lost. Euan Sutherland, the former Co-op chief executive who resigned after details of his pay were leaked to The Observer, argued that democracy and values might be vital, but without radical change the whole future of the business was at risk.

This is a disagreement that goes to the heart of the Co-op debate. As its submission continues, "Midcounties does not share the view that in a co-operative context member control is incompatible with the needs of a complex commercial enterprise. Indeed, experience in the UK and abroad demonstrates that this is clearly not the case.

"Among the independent consumer co-operative societies, it is demonstrably the case that it is the most democratic that are the most successful in commercial terms, not the reverse."

The clash is one of cultures. Lord Myners is steeped in PLC history, having formerly been chairman of both the property business, Land Securities, and Marks and Spencer. Mr Sutherland was formerly at the retail giant, Kingfisher. Niall Booker, the chief executive of Co-op Bank in which the Co-op Group retains a 30% stake, is a veteran of HSBC.

They are coming up against committed independent heads of co-operative societies who have long experience of mutual operations. They are suspicious of where change is leading.

"A fundamental point is that the relationship [between Group and its Co-op members] is not purely commercial," the Midcounties submission says. "All societies are part of the co-operative movement.

"We share a common interest in showing that co-operation is a force for good in society and an important organisational model in itself."

Lord Myners has until a special general meeting of the Co-op Group in the summer to get his proposals agreed. He will have a tough job.

UPDATE 13:15

I'm hearing rumblings that the Treasury Select Committee is very keen to call Euan Sutherland to give evidence to its inquiry into the Co-op bank collapse and its impact on the Group's problems.

In what would be an incendiary hearing, MPs are particularly keen to ask the former chief executive exactly what he meant when he said that the business was "ungovernable" and why he left so abruptly. Mr Sutherland also questioned the viability of the 170-year-old organisation.

If it happens - and I believe it will - it will be standing room only.

An Apple A Day

'An apple a day keeps the doctor away' is an old saying given a modern twist by the announcement that the iconic American company has decided to halt online sales in Russia because of the economic turmoil surrounding the Russian rouble.

Rouble turmoil leads to Apple halting online sales in Russia

Technology giant Apple says it cannot sell products online in Russia because the rouble's value is too volatile for it to set prices.

The company stopped sales of its iPhones, iPads and other products in the country after a day in which the currency went into free-fall.

The rouble has lost more than 20% this week, despite a dramatic decision to raise interest rates from 10.5% to 17%.

US Dollar v Russian Rouble

Its all time low, set on Wednesday, saw one dollar buying as many as 79 roubles.

Apple last month increased its prices in Russia by 20% after the weakening rouble left products in the country cheaper than in the rest of Europe.

Russia's central bank said on Wednesday it had spent almost $2bn intervening in the currency market on Monday.

It has spent around $80bn trying to prop up its rouble this year, but despite that, the currency has lost more than half its value against the dollar since January, with cheaper oil and Western sanctions over its stance over Ukraine the chief factors.

Both of these have weakened the Russian economy.

Russia's central bank has pledged fresh further measures to try to stabilise its currency, with First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov describing the situation as "critical".

John Simpson asks if the currency crisis will affect Putin's popularity

The rouble's slide this week was prompted by fears that the US was considering a fresh set of sanctions against the country for its support for separatists in Ukraine.