The civil war at the Co-op is a tragedy, many believe. Perhaps a better word would be disgrace.

The civil war at the Co-op is a tragedy, many believe. Perhaps a better word would be disgrace.

The business, whose retail interests span c-stores to pharmacy to electricals online, is scheduled to post a jaw-dropping loss of about £2bn when it reports on Thursday (April 17).

Its condition could hardly be more parlous. But instead of concentrating on putting their house in order some members of the group board seem happier to play politics.

In the name of preserving its unique mutual status they have waged a feud with directors, precipitating first the departure of chief executive Euan Sutherland and then Lord Myners, whose proposed reforms were viewed as anathema to the Co-op’s heritage.

Unique as the Co-op’s structure may be – and many aspects are worth preserving – it’s that very structure in part that brought it to the brink of collapse.

It simply wasn’t up to the task of overseeing the complexity of the banking business, or indeed of understanding the pace of change in retail.

Increased professionalisation is essential and is the way to safeguard the best of the Co-op way of doing things for the future.

But instead of finding ways to marry principle and commercial success, some board members have chosen to indulge in an airy debate about the soul of the Co-op. And despite the highfalutin statements about values, the argument has been conducted with a venom that puts the organisation to shame.

How ironic that, as the tub-thumping goes on in the boardroom, the new generation of management drafted in from outside seems to be making the best stab of securing a continued place for the Co-op on the high street.

The latest Kantar data indicated stabilisation of market share at the Co-op’s food division, under the leadership of by former Tesco and JS man Steve Murrells. Last month he unveiled a new direction for the retailer, designed to build its already powerful convenience strength.

It’s only a first step along what will doubtless be a long road but it’s something concrete, and preferable to the bad-tempered hot air emanating from the boardroom.

With food retail sales of more than £7bn and 2,800 food stores, the Co-op has a chance to escape its predicament as far as the grocery market is concerned.

Across the entire group there are 100,000 employees. For their sake if for no other it’s time for the recalcitrant board members to put a Fairtrade cork in it.