Momentum: Activists have their say at last
THE NATIONAL COMMITTEE OF MOMENTUM MET for the first time at the start of February. That part is beyond dispute. Then came the ‘reports’. Scathing ones by papers like the Telegraph were to be expected. But there was also a strangely suspicious report by Labour List reproducing a so-called ‘leak’ (one wonders why they didn’t simply ask Momentum delegates – after all, reports were all over Facebook pretty much as soon as the meeting finished). Barely accurate at best, right wing blogger Guido Fawkes claimed elections to the Steering Committee were a fix. Well, not only was I there, but to my surprise I was elected to the Steering Committee. So Guido, I wish you had said this before, it would have saved me a lot of bother.
Momentum groups have been divided into regions, reflecting the geographical boundaries of the Labour Party. While I was a delegate from the LRC, I’m also an organiser for Momentum Thanet, one of the more established Momentum branches – if that’s what we are – in the South East region. I had been looking forward to the National Committee. After all, how do you democratically ‘start’ a grassroots movement?
It was clear the desire to bring together a ‘broad church’ of the left was behind the National Committee structure with delegates from Momentum groups and from Labour organisations such as the Labour representation Committee, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Compass as well as from affiliated and unaffiliated unions including the Fire Brigades Union and the Bakers’ Union. Some inside and out of Momentum feared (some, I suspect, even wanted) a quick implosion. In the event, nothing of the sort occurred.
There was plenty of networking – people were keen to meet each other. While it was agreed that delegates had been given too little time to read all the papers, and most had no time to refer papers to those we represented, what was remarkable was the consistent message reflected in the voting – the majority wants Momentum to be as open as possible, focused on the Labour Party, not a simulacrum of it.
Proposals to make Momentum a membership organisation were accepted after clarification that all those now on the database, if they lacked the £5 (unemployed) or £10 annual fee, could remain members. The suggested ban on the sale of left wing journals from other organisations was easily voted down. Some proposals, for example to organise a national Momentum conference and a youth conference, were referred to the Steering Committee with the proviso that a Youth Committee would go ahead. But the most significant votes were those relating to membership and the election of the Steering Committee.
Out of three proposals the best option, in my opinion – allowing membership to anyone not a member of an organisation that stands candidates against Labour – won by a significant majority. Interestingly, as we are delegates to the National Committee, our votes were recorded to allow for accountability. A suggestion: if you want to get to grips with what may be the dynamics of the Steering Committee, check out who voted for what (we were told that the votes would be made public) – from the two votes for allowing only Labour Party members to join or support Momentum, the 18 who wanted to restrict full Momentum membership to Labour Party members but allow non-members to have some participation locally as supporters as long as they didn’t support rival candidates, as well as the 27 who supported the winning proposal. This vote reflects something of the political/ strategic differences between more Labour-centric groupings and those who believe we can only win the Party if we build a mass movement outside to support the struggles inside. No doubt these divisions will be played out in the future in the Steering Committee.
It was unfortunate, considering the significant number of those relatively new to this kind of activists’ politics, that the 30seconds allowed to candidates to pitch for Steering Committee positions gave delegates little (or in one case no) opportunity to ascertain how they intended to contribute as members of the Steering Committee. Union representation is yet to be decided. The Steering Committee so far is: Jon Lansman, Marshajane Thompson, Sam Wheeler, Michael Chessum, Jackie Walker, Jill Mountford, Christine Shawcroft and Cecile Wright.
There was a small but significant pointer on the way Momentum may go. While it was agreed this year wasn’t the time to debate the NEC slate, it was registered that the Centre-Left Grass Roots Alliance slate for the NEC should be a topic for debate for the future.
The atmosphere was pretty buoyant by the end of the meeting. The devil, as ever, will be in the detail.
Jackie Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org