Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The new establishment

Momentum are winning despite their weaknesses, writes Adrian McMenamin

You have to laugh.

Immediately after the election of a new deputy leader of the party in Wales last weekend, Jon Lansman took to social media to denounce the use of an electoral college as ‘gerrymandering’ and to complain bitterly that ‘one-member, one-vote’ (OMOV) had not been used.

Yes, the same Jon Lansman that opposed OMOV at 1980 conference and who ensured that an electoral college was adopted at the special Wembley conference in early 1981. The same Jon Lansman that opposed Neil Kinnock’s unsuccessful attempt to move towards an OMOV mechanism for parliamentary selections in 1984 and then John Smith’s more successful moves in 1993.

That Jon Lansman.

Jon, welcome to the world of zombie Blairism.

For under Neil Kinnock, John Smith and, especially, Tony Blair, the plebiscitary democracy of OMOV was generally used by party leaders as a way of routing around the activists.

For all three, the need was not just to win the votes but to demonstrate that Labour, or latterly New Labour, was different from the party of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Cutting the activists out and going straight to the membership was a highly effective way of doing that and with a five-year electoral cycle it was also quick and easy to do.

Jeremy Corbyn and his allies have learned that lesson well. For while many Labour branch and CLP meetings are still dominated by the essentially pragmatic and highly electorally-focused activists of old, there are now a vast number of members who have joined to do nothing more than back Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership via internet balloting. They can be easily mobilised to ensure every other shade of opinion gets locked out in any OMOV ballot.

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Lansman and his allies occasionally show signs that they understand this is not a sustainable basis for long-term dominance. Clickivists build no cultural monuments and sooner or later move on, to the grave at one extreme or more likely another insurgent cause. This is another lesson they should have learned from Blair, though it is sadly one that was never fully learned in Blair’s time.

Momentum are making some efforts to build a new culture where the ideas of the hard left as the party’s common sense at every level. But as the antisemitism crisis shows, they are struggling: having come to power on an insurgent wave that regards almost everything that came before as axiomatically treacherous they can create no moment of Thermidorian reaction in which the revolution is consolidated. The mob will brook no compromise.

And, of course, many of those close to Corbyn are old men (and they are men) in a hurry. The long-game alternative of keeping power in the hands of elected representatives while winning more and more selection meetings through a war of position in the grassroots was how they took control of London Labour in the 70s and 80s. But now, as they are approaching their personal 70s and 80s, they have only the time left for a war of manoeuvre.

This cultural weakness of Corbynism hardly matters – for now. Momentum are winning on all fronts. And the shaming agony of the antisemitism crisis seemingly makes no difference. Len McCluskey even feels so confident he can throw gallons of petrol on the bonfire.

Whether it will matter in the longer term will depend on whether the party survives. As McCluskey’s behaviour shows, there are plenty who seem unable to grasp the fact that the question remains an open one.

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Adrian McMenamin is a Progress columnist. He tweets @adrianmcmenamin

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