The Co-operative Party is searching for a new General Secretary following the announcement that current chief Michael Stephenson is quitting the post at the end of April.
Mr Stephenson, a former adviser to ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, has successfully led the Co-op Party for almost four years, but feels the time is right to move on to new challenges and is to join the Co-operative Group with a brief to promote ways of expanding the society’s influence and income within the European Union.
Following a meeting of the Party’s NEC at which Mr Stephenson announced his decision to step down, Chair Gareth Thomas MP paid tribute to his contribution since he took over the role from Peter Hunt in 2008.
Said Mr Thomas: “Michael has done an excellent job as General Secretary of the Co-op Party and while I’m pleased for him, I’m sorry he’s leaving.
“Under Michael’s leadership, the Co-op Party has increased its membership; secured a strong presence in the current Parliament and generated and campaigned on a series of new co-operative ideas.”
Added Mr Thomas: “He leaves the Co-op Party in a very strong position to help Labour towards the next general election. I wish him well and am sure he will be a huge asset in what he’s doing next for the Co-op Group.”
Deputy General Secretary Karen Wilkie will become Acting General Secretary when Mr Stephenson leaves and it is understood the Party hopes to have a successor in place in advance of its annual conference in September.
Mr Stephenson told the News he is delighted to be staying within the Movement and says he is looking forward to the opportunites and challenges offered by his new post with the Group.
And in a statement circulated to Party members, he summed up the achievements of the past few years and reiterated his view that the current Government’s stated interest in co-operation amounts to little more than window dressing to try to hide the Coalition’s real agenda of privatisation and savage public sector cut-backs.
He said: “The Tories and Lib Dems are cynically trying to steal our co-operative credentials and even take credit for all the legislation Co-operative MPs achieved under the last Labour Government.
“We have to fight the deception and cynical opportunism of the Tory/LibDem Government and stop them destroying the reputation of our great
Added Mr Stephesnon: “We need to recruit more members; be more inclusive; more radical in our policies; more innovative in our campaigning; more imaginative in our fundraising and much better in our engagement with our most precious resource – our members.
“However I am confident we have the people, ideas and commitment to make that happen. Although I am standing down as General Secretary I will continue to be an active and committed member of the Party. It is vital that we show that we continue to be the genuine political arm of the Co-operative Movement and an effective sister party to Labour.”
He concluded: “We must also show that we are the party that upholds the values and principles of co-operation at a time when those values are most at risk of compromise by our enemies on the Right, who talk the language of our Movement, but betray it with their actions at every opportunity.”