Asset-stripping Labour

Momentum is a party waiting to leave a party

The results of the National Executive Committee elections were disappointing. A clean sweep for the Momentum-backed slate will not be good for plurality, nor party democracy. But we should be proud of the six people Progress and Labour First supported. Ellie Reeves and Johanna Baxter doubled their votes and leave the NEC with a great list of achievements to their name. Bex Bailey polled 67,000 votes and ran a superb campaign. Parmjit Dhanda, Luke Akehurst and Peter Wheeler did well and should be proud. When it feels like you are the lone voice in a party meeting, remember that this ballot shows there are tens of thousands of members who want Labour return to its winning ways.

The ‘winner takes all’ result will mean our newly elected representatives will berate, rather than listen to, Labour members who do not agree with everything the leadership does. We will be lumped in with the parliamentary party – no bad thing considering it has the mandate of 9.3 million people – to downplay our ideas as careerist or ‘rightwing’. Yet there will not be many Progress members in receipt of the £5m of Short money used to staff the leader’s office, and even fewer on six-figure salaries. None who share stages with rightwing autocrats like Vladimir Putin, for example.

Early signs confirm our worst fears. Triumphant NEC candidate Rhea Wolfson gave one of her first interviews* to Solidarity, the in-house newspaper of the Alliance of Workers’ Liberty, a group proscribed by Labour conference in 1990 when it was known as Socialist Organiser. She took this opportunity to support ‘mandatory reselections’ and to oppose ‘political expulsions’ – code for letting in people who stand against Labour and support revolutionary, not parliamentary, change. It is a pretty stark wake-up call to the Labour members of parliament who thought it best to sit this NEC race out. It is your job that she, and her acolytes, are going for. Not those of Tory MPs. Better luck next time.

But all is not lost. When the new reps start in September, George Howarth also replaces Dennis Skinner. Overall there will be a net loss of only one seat. The GMB’s ballot, moving the organisation away from the hard-left, will have repercussions as yet unknown, but likely largely positive. Equally, Tom Watson getting a grip on the hard-left infiltration of the party will mark a turning of the tide.

While prospects for moderates may look bleak, it is Momentum, not moderates, that is planning for a split. On its creation I welcomed the organisation to the Labour family and set out some ground rules. I even offered to partner with it if, first, it made its organisation for Labour members only – we keep being told that party membership is bigger than ever, so why recruit beyond it? Second, it should rule out any support for deselections or a change of the rules for mandatory reselection – you cannot debate the future of the party and country with a political gun to your head. But it did neither.

Its evolution since shows its drift from Labour. All Labour-family groups have a website and aim to get stories in the media. But, in a further contrast to Progress, and groups like Open Labour, it presents itself directly to the electorate. Momentum runs voter registration drives, rejecting Gloria De Piero’s excellent campaign pack, and prints its own branded materials and collecting the data for itself, not Labour. It is data-mining British voters with petitions and email campaigns, and appears as Momentum at protests, pickets and now gay prides. This is not a party in a party, but a party waiting to leave a party.

Just look. Its national executive, trade union affiliations, membership processes, its conference alongside Labour conference and data on Labour members – harvested by the private companies set up to run Corbyn’s leadership campaigns – all look like the precursor to an asset-strip of the Labour party.

It is hard and unpleasant for Labour moderates at the moment. But look how often the ‘Mr Reasonable’ mask slips from John McDonnell’s face; how, on the day Jon Trickett launched a rights at work policy, the leader’s office threatened in the media to sack party staff; how Momentum is frustrated that taking over the party is not as easy as it hoped. Why? Because members like you remember how proud you felt the day the national minimum wage became law and, at a stroke, 1.5 million people – two-thirds of them women – got a pay rise; because members like you want to see something similar again. The Tories are bad enough to lose. Labour just needs to be good enough to win. So comrades, don’t despair.

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*Wolfson’s first interview was on World At One on Radio 4 which was also about deselections. The interview with Solidarity was published later on the same day

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Richard Angell is director of Progress

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Photo: Funk Dooby

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Comments: 22...

  1. On September 1, 2016 at 12:09 am Mark1957 responded with... #

    I’m sorry, but this argument does not make sense. Corbyn and his supporters now or at least soon will, have control of the NEC, the majority of party members and the party staff. Why on Earth would they give up that to “split” and get embroiled in legal battles over assets and the name of the party?

    I am someone who wants a united party, but have been puzzled by the strategy of those opposed to Corbyn.

    Clearly damaging the party will not move Corbyn and has only bolstered his support while heaping much of the blame for the damage on those opposed to Corbyn. Just doing more of the same will merely get more of the same.

    Isn’t it time to change strategy?

  2. On September 1, 2016 at 1:04 am David Curran responded with... #

    Marvellous. Well said Richard.

  3. On September 1, 2016 at 8:23 am John P Reid responded with... #

    Labour re currently third in England behind ukip

    • On September 1, 2016 at 9:00 am Adam Smith responded with... #

      I never normally reply to these comments but I felt compelled…

      I am a member of Momentum, and a Labour Party member and a proud Trade Unionist. I have grown up in the shadow of thatcher and watched her and her ilk change the fabric of politics by moving the Overton Window steadily to the right.

      The Overton Window is moving again, can you not feel it? Can you not see it? People look at Blair as a Red Tory. NEw Labour welcomed Tories into their ranks with open arms, there was no difference.

      People think that Brexit was a lurch to the right, history will show different. Most of the Brexit voters I know were fully paid up members of unions. Progress is lagging behind, and if it does not want to take part, progress is not progress it is a hinderance.

      Simply, in the Labour movement, who are more important, the General Electorate or the membership? If you think it is the Electorate (you keep mentioning this 9.3 mill mandate) then you need to re-read the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists because you are missing the point.

      Soon the Overton Window will shift over the NEC and you will rail and scream the injustice of it… How do you think we felt the last 20 years!!!

  4. On September 1, 2016 at 8:45 am Katherine Barker responded with... #

    On its creation I welcomed the organisation to the Labour family and set out some ground rules.

    Me too – I spent 6 months of my life I won’t get back again trying to get Momentum & its followers to be a force for good in their constituencies – I even wrote a ‘How to stop a Momentum group from being infiltrated’ guide. Oh ** – I imagine that’s mostly used as a ‘How to infiltrate a CLP’ guide now.

    I find it hard not to despair – but I will try to take your lead

  5. On September 1, 2016 at 8:47 am Sarah responded with... #

    Looks like sales of tinfoil have increased recently

  6. On September 1, 2016 at 8:49 am Katherine Barker responded with... #

    On its creation I welcomed the organisation to the Labour family and set out some ground rules.

    Me too – I spent 6 months of my life I won’t get back again trying to get Momentum & its followers to be a force for good in their constituencies – I even wrote a ‘How to stop a Momentum group from being infiltrated’ guide. Oh ** – I imagine that’s mostly used as a ‘How to infiltrate a CLP’ guide now.

    I find it hard not to despair – but I will try to take your lead.

    PS Posting on Word Press is seriously not easy

  7. On September 1, 2016 at 10:12 am K O'Kane responded with... #

    Why not just have done with it and join the Tories Richard? I’m sure you’d be a lot happier, then you can vote for welfare cuts all you like.

  8. On September 1, 2016 at 10:38 am Maxine responded with... #

    Why on earth is it allowed? How can a leader of the Labour Party set up his own base, just to support him and not the Labour Party? When this nightmare is over, no other leader should be allowed to do it again.

    It’s interesting that Owen has the overwhelming support of members who joined before before the general election. This shows that new members have been recruited to support one man and his viewpoint and not the party.

    The country needs an opposition but it also needs a government in waiting to give it any teeth. JC cannot do that. He doesn’t have the confidence of enough experienced political players.

    Part of me thinks it’s time for the 171 MPs to put country before party at take over as the opposition if the speaker agrees. With Brexit threatening a long recession while eroding worker and human rights, it doesn’t seem like a good time to leave the ‘trainees’ minding the shop. I’m not wed to this idea but I can’t see another way out that won’t hurt this country.

  9. On September 1, 2016 at 10:45 am Laurie Melville responded with... #

    Your sneer at a ” ‘winner takes all’ result” is a bit rich from a Labour Party which has never shown any interest in unlocking democracy in our appallingly rigged system of General Election voting, which seems constitutionally incapable of noticing the public mood for a Coalition of the Left, and as for its own attempts to rig the voting for the Party Leader…!

  10. On September 1, 2016 at 10:46 am wp00 responded with... #

    “downplay our ideas as careerist or ‘rightwing’.”

    Maybe it would befit Progress, people who like to call themselves “moderates”, “pragmatics” and “competent” to look at your ideas. And check if they were right or wrong. Hold yourself accountable.

    Iraq, privatisation, financial deregulation, PFIs, austerity (“Labour will cut the deficit every year”—2015 Manifesto)…. these are all grave mistakes. That you made.

    Yes, these ideas were right-wing, but far more importantly, they were wrong.

    Stop being wrong.

  11. On September 1, 2016 at 11:10 am Rob A responded with... #

    I’m afraid that until there is a general election and the party discovers just how far it is from the British people, and that rallies, twitter storms and talking about a mandate do not equate to more than 25% of the vote that anything will happen.
    What will happen then is another leadership campaign, and by then, whenever it is, we will need a candidate with their own position, profile and credibility. Whether that’s Owen back for a rematch or someone else i don’t know. But it can’t be someone who says that they’ll match all Corbyn’s policies but just be better. They will need a radical but not extreme position closer to the British people.

  12. On September 1, 2016 at 11:22 am Elizabeth Lock responded with... #

    Why is Progress allowed? In its ‘About Us’ page (now vanished, but the Internet Archive reveals all) it describes or described itself as ‘an independent organisation of Labour Party members’. Momentum describes itself as ‘ independent, but supportive of, the Labour Party and Labour leadership’ and ‘committed to supporting the Labour Party winning elections and entering government’. The only structural difference is that Momentum allows people who are not members of any political party to join: ‘to reach out to the 99% of people who are not currently in any political party, spread Labour values and increase Labour Party membership’. Both organisations represent perfectly legitimate strands of opinion. (And shouldn’t the Labour Party, in fact, support its own leadership, if it is to have any hope of ‘winning elections’?)

  13. On September 1, 2016 at 12:37 pm Sheila responded with... #

    Progress has been allowed to exist alongside the Labour Party structure. So why not Momentum too?

    Some of us think it’s good to have a left-wing alternative to Progress, which has always been funded by rich donors with a right-wing agenda!

    Wikipedia seems to give a reasonable account of both organisations.

  14. On September 1, 2016 at 2:09 pm Ian responded with... #

    Does no-one in Labour stop to think about the link between the voting systems you use and the sorts of outcome you tend to get? Or so you have the same blind spot as the Tories, in denial about the wrongs of the ‘traditional’ approach because, once in a while, it drops majority power into your hands without any real justification?

    If the party uses a multiple-vote top six candidate system, as used for UK local elections in all-up councils, then you will not get a result (in any constituency nor overall) that is representative of the electorate.

    If you didn’t want a representative national committee, then fine. But, since I would have thought that the whole purpose of the NEC election of representatives is surely that they represent the spectrum of opinion across the party, I suggest that the system you are using is not an appropriate one. I could make some suggestions but it would probably be better for someone from the NEC to go have a chat with the ERS.

  15. On September 1, 2016 at 3:30 pm Elizabeth McIntosh responded with... #

    Oh Richard, it seems you write without any self reflection. As Sheila points out the extreme moderates of Progress run a parallel party within Labour. Now because you are being out organised, out thought and losing the ideological battle you cry foul.
    And it is not the MPs who have the mandate of 9.3 million voters but the party. If they stood as independents they would not be elected. It is the party label that is important. The individuals who happen to be our MPs at the moment need to remember this.
    Progress and its supporters need lessons on loyalty and solidarity, the old Labour virtues. Instead of constantly conspiring and spreading despair they should accept the result of internal elections and stop trying to find a rationale fo rnot accepting the mandate of the members.

  16. On September 1, 2016 at 4:40 pm Ragnar responded with... #

    Interesting given the Progress-backed rebels’ *actual* threats to split the party and form their own one with their own whips. Nice diversionary tactic there….

    • On September 1, 2016 at 6:21 pm Neil Rider responded with... #

      The point about Momentum preparing to break away (or more accurately its leadersdoing so) is that it make perfect sense in the world of Trotskyite entryists. Its not exactly a big secret really as the idea of setting up a ‘trade union party’ along the lines of the Co Op party but with the crucial difference that it would be to attract existing members to a future split was mooted in the Morning Star which Jeremy contributes to not so long ago. The idea being much as Richard says save that when mooted just before the election those supporting such a proposition could not possibly have envisaged Beckett, Field and their fellow ‘morons’ giving them such a gift by nominating Jeremy. Although as Margaret Beckett was also famously opposed to action agains Militant maybe not such a big surprise. So Richard is spot on. I do think however that we don’t need to do any ‘tweaking’ to justify our arguments and the interview given to the trot website does not actually say what Richard claims. Its a perfectly fair point to ask why such an obvious entryist group gets that first interview without exaggerating the content.

      • On September 1, 2016 at 10:56 pm AM responded with... #

        the misrepresentation of wolfson is so typical of moderate spin of recent weeks and months, mis-interpreting every word pro-corbyn people say

        one of the reasons why people aren’t taken in by them

  17. On September 2, 2016 at 12:04 am Peter Kenny responded with... #

    Drivel.

    Why ever would we split when we’re winning?

    Look at history and you’ll see the two major splits – 1930 and 1982 were both from the right – much, much more likely.

  18. On September 2, 2016 at 8:48 am Gerry Raamsden responded with... #

    This ‘article’ is pretty well poor in content and not well thought through but an attack on the total Labour Party membership. The reasons candidates ARE ELECTED to office is that they have the confidence of the electorate.

    Splits in the party are usually concerned wth a minority of members who calculate they their interests are not being served by the the party. It is therefore a strange turn of events when the majority of representative, and members split from the party as a whole.

    Progress a party within a party backed by a few donors has existed for a few years now, it claims you claim the title ‘moderate’ when many of you positions are to the right of the mainstream party. Therefore these policy positions are not viewed as the mainstream party as moderate, because in their view they are not congruent with the mainstream thinking.

    Semantics but it is important, as for a split the PLP will cause any split, the lines are drawn, and the party OUR party will deal with the split accordingly.

    • On September 3, 2016 at 1:16 am Simon Cooper responded with... #

      Not an attack on the TOTAL membership, as some members would prefer not Corbyn/Momentum, not Progress, but a centre-of-Labour consensus leadership which tries to bring together the best of the broad church…

      Then again, if you want to claim ownership of the total membership I’m sure you’re right about that, and everything else…

      The problem, obvious to anyone with an active and open mind, is that the Blair/Progress line on pushing everything Labour to the moderate middle and even over that line in pursuit of being electable has left many disillusioned and has required a swing back to the left and towards Labour’s traditional (socialist) values, but that the Corbyn/Momentum methodology is an overreaction, too far the other way.

      It appears attractive to people of sound morality who want a radical alternative, and to those who are longstanding lefties, sick of past disenfranchisement, but it is again the wrong, ineffectual, unrealistic path.

      The broad Labour movement contains many groupings and individuals with nuanced sets of beliefs, but broadly speaking you have social democrats (moderate, centrist, related to the Blair movement sometimes), democratic socialists (the traditional, historical core including most current MPs and local party activists) and what are sometimes referred to in the press and in attack pieces as Marxists or Trotskyites, but (though those labels are overused as insults – I don’t know if they should be used as insults) I would refer to them as traditionalist, trade-unionist, hardcore socialists or just ‘lefties’.

      Now this last group is the base of Corbyn’s support, though Corbyn et al have sold themselves very well to this base group and its close allies and drawn lots of people in. There have always been flaws with some of the more extreme views coming from a section of that group, particularly some on foreign policy, and there are big issues with whether it will ever be trusted on the economy.

      I could say more, but mostly I think people on both extremes of the argument have to look at themselves and think “Am I really conducting myself in a way worthy of the intentions of my moral beliefs? Am I contributing to the best chance of a change of political direction which will benefit the poor and needy in my country?”

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