Mass movement or personal fiefdom?

Momentum leaders may be taking its supporters for granted, argues Richard Angell

Momentum is not just the new establishment of the Labour party – those in its leadership are really enjoying their new position as the people in charge. They can run the commanding heights of the Labour party from an app available on iTunes.

They have embraced factionalism for the Uber economy and cut out both the workers – normally organising for political events requires long hours and lots of volunteers – and vast committees making the decisions. He who owns the data has all the power. Jon Lansman, I am told by someone on the current Momentum national committee, decided to stop his delegates prioritising Brexit at Labour party conference in Brighton without the wider committee’s approval. Surely Lansman founded the organisation to be a mass movement not a personal fiefdom?

When Lansman brazenly instructed one of his fixers to tell delegates that Brexit was ‘already set to be debated on the Monday morning conference session’ they knew all that was scheduled was a (very good) speech by shadow secretary of state for exiting the European Union Keir Starmer and a glorified question and answer session. Worse, if you look at the wording of the missive, it acknowledges that the Momentum membership is pro-European and wanted the debate. Were it not its own allies doing it, the so-called Campaign for Labour Party Democracy would have gone berserk. It is not just former national committee member Michael Chessum and those around the Alliance of Workers Liberty that have noticed that at the first sign of trouble the Momentum leadership use stitch and fix tactics to save Jeremy Corbyn’s blushes.

It is fair to say that when Lansman instructed his members to vote to create three new places on the NEC for ordinary members, no one thought he was creating them to take one of the places for himself. Yet that is exactly what happened. The veteran Bennite, who is in and out of the leader’s office more than some of their paid staff, is not really a ‘normal member’.

It is not just Lansman’s candidacy that takes Momentum members for granted. None of this slate are part of the wave of new members who joined to elect, or re-elect, Corbyn. They are not newcomers who turned up campaigning for the first time and have ‘caught the bug’. They are factional warriors more interested in controlling Labour than Labour controlling the country. Rachel Garnham – currently a national policy forum representative – has been a member for over 20 years, and Manchester city councillor Yasmine Dar over five. Between them their active membership is on average 22 years, not 22 months. Why are they not standing someone from the junior doctors committee, a young person who voted Labour for the first time this June or a public sector worker fighting to scrap the cap?

It is almost as if it is not about the (many) Corbynistas – those who joined for a new kind of politics – but about the (few) Bennites taking the control they have long fantasised about.

So now they have control, we can focus on beating the Tories, right? No. The party ‘democracy’ review being carried out by Corbyn’s political secretary Katy Clark seems less about welcoming in new membership and more about delivering on hard-left hobby horses. Clark is going on secondment to run the process full-time – they are even recruiting a replacement political secretary to cover her existing duties, meaning the party is easily spending six-figures on staff costs for this review. She is joined by union man Andy Kerr and Islington councillor Claudia Webbe. There is no pretence at unity, just uniformity. Three people from one political tradition proposing changes to the advantage of their faction, what could go wrong?

From what I have ascertained – from conversations with Clark herself and others – is that it is a three-part process. One, consolidating their majority on the NEC – they seem to have the NEC youth representative and the BAME Labour post in their sights. (Apparently party democracy is only good when you get the answer you agree with.) Then they want more places for party members without the numbers of NEC members increasing further – considering unions will not ever give up their increased number of places that means they are coming for those representing members of parliament, councillors and members of the European parliament. This will be agreed in January. Second, around March, reforming local constituency Labour parties and party regional structures. There is talk of directly electing Labour council group leaders and regional directors. Some will worry that this will lead to mandatory reselections and control of selections by the back door. Finally, conference, its processes and ‘the stuff the unions are more bothered about’ in the summer. None of this is about new members, or winning a Labour government.

Time and again Lansman and his inner circle treat the Momentum membership with contempt. They send the young people campaigning and concentrate the power in one man. They reduce their new membership from a mass movement for Labour to ‘micro-chip Labour’. The question is, will it backfire?

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Richard Angell is director of Progress

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Comments: 8...

  1. On November 10, 2017 at 12:32 pm Scrutiniser responded with... #

    Progress may have the financial backing to survive for nearly another 3 years. However, until it stops needlessly carping and eventually decides to constructively engage with the rest of the party, then it is almost inevitably in a downward spiral!

    Richard Angell is perhaps the main obstacle in preventing Progress moving forward, although other pseudonyms such as The Progressive or The Insider (possibly Angell again?) are equally responsible for this abject failure.

    The sooner that Richard Angell and Progress members acknowledge this situation, the greater chance of success of Progress being able to make a meaningful contribution to the develpment of Labour party policy. Why not attempt to become less toxic, or remain forever in a dwindling niche/bubble who refuse to engage, debate, negotiate or even compromise ,with anyone outside of their own sect?

    I have been waiting for evidence of any real change in behaviour for several years, more in hope than expectation. Time for a change!

  2. On November 10, 2017 at 12:35 pm Scrutiniser responded with... #

    Progress may have the financial backing to survive for nearly another 3 years. However, until it stops needlessly carping and eventually decides to constructively engage with the rest of the party, then it is almost inevitably in a downward spiral!

    Richard Angell is perhaps the main obstacle in preventing Progress moving forward, although other pseudonyms such as The Progressive or The Insider (possibly Angell again?) are equally responsible for this abject failure.

    The sooner that Richard Angell and Progress members acknowledge this situation, the greater chance of success of Progress being able to make a meaningful contribution to the development of Labour party policy. Why not attempt to become less toxic, or remain forever in a dwindling niche/bubble who refuse to engage, debate, negotiate or even compromise ,with anyone outside of their own sect?

    I have been waiting for evidence of any real change in behaviour for several years, more in hope than expectation. Time for a change!

    • On November 11, 2017 at 9:50 am Dr. Stewart Eames responded with... #

      In total agreement with ‘Scrutiniser’…

  3. On November 11, 2017 at 5:44 pm John responded with... #

    As usual no attempt by momentum supporters to answer the questions.

    • On November 13, 2017 at 2:05 pm Scrutiniser responded with... #

      John, which specific questions (within the largely incoherent rant) are you referring to?

      1. There is double assertion/accusation (with no actual evidence provided) in the last two sentences of the second paragraph that happens to end with a question mark.

      2. At the end of another long rant, in paragraph 5, it asked why no new member (of 22 months) has not put their name forward for a position on the NEC? The simple answer is that this would be very unusual, for someone with relatively little experience of local or national politics and would such a person have any serious chance of being elected? The other suggestion essentially appears to be recommending a single issue protest candidate!

      3. Paragraph 7 appears to be another rant that also contains a criticism of the review of policies to extend party democracy. Progress dislike internal democracy, so this is hardly news. The paragraph ends with an assertion masquerading as a question.

      4. The final paragraph is another swivel-eyed, continuous rant containing yet another baseless assertion. It says more about the bitterness and paranoia of the Author than anything else. If the premise is essentially untrue then the question: will it backfire? is perhaps more in the realm of philosophy, if it exists outside of any objective reality.

      • On November 15, 2017 at 9:54 am John responded with... #

        The question we need to ask is whether the 1970.s policies and approach of momentum inspired by the incoherent and swivel eyed views (yes he did have odd eyes) of JC`s dead mentor Tony Benn are likely to lead to electoral success any more than they did in 1983.

        Labour now level pegging with the Tories despite them being the worst government for 20 years speaks volumes. Under the now reviled Blair they were 20 points ahead at this stage and Theresa May`s government is weaker than even John Major`s. If Jeremy just wins the election and governs with a small minority or even in a hung parliament, a result some Tories would prefer, then a generation in the wilderness beckons.

        The current momentum slate include old Campaign for Labour Democracy many public school educated individuals.

        At least a few new faces would have been nice.

        Of course theLabour party should be a mass democratic party with an active membership who debate issues in a coherent and practical fashion, not a small secretive sect out of touch with its electoral base.

        • On November 15, 2017 at 6:49 pm Scrutiniser responded with... #

          I think you nailed it in your last sentence. The description of “a small secretive sect out of touch with its electoral base” is precisely the position that Progress now find themselves in!

          A lot of Labour MPs, who were formerly associated with Progress have distanced themselves, so whatever Progress were attempting to achieve (other than their overwhelming desire for a change in the leadership) is manifestly failing.

          If there is no desire on the part of Progress to engage, debate issues and attempt to find compromises, wherever possible then what is their purpose, other than as a protest movement? When was the last time that a well thought out, logically coherent and convincing article appeared on the website, rather than just a series of complaints?

          Most of the policies currently being advocated by Labour appear to have popular support, among the wider electorate, Blairism is dead and buried, although the man himself may believe otherwise.

  4. On November 17, 2017 at 5:51 am John responded with... #

    There is no future in sterile marxism leninism. Centralised state socialism is not the answer. The thought that a nationalised Greggs will be the future of human happiness is risible. When Brexit is the greatest issue of the day momentum retreats to its irrelevant marxist bunker. The idea that government by self obsessed egoists is the future is too depressing and ultimately will not happen

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