We have had two national meetings of both sides of the divide that currently exists within Momentum.
The first meeting under the title of ‘Grassroots Momentum’ took place in London on 11th March. Two weeks later, the ‘mainstream Momentum’ had its national event in Birmingham. Unlike the earlier meeting, the event in Birmingham was not a conference, rather a networking and training event organised under the title of ‘Building To Win’. I estimated the attendance to be around 450, around twice those who attended the earlier event.
Both events confirmed the lack of active participation at events by the large number of Momentum members, 24,000 at the last count. This same phenomenon is evident among Labour Party members generally - only a small minority of the 500,000 new members who have joined in the last year are attending normal party meetings, making it easier for the right wing to retain many of their positions.
The makeup of the attendees in Birmingham was a bit older than I expected - apart from the Momentum staff there were far fewer young people than I anticipated. This is another sign that the wave of enthusiasm generated by the second leadership contest has receded considerably. However, the atmosphere among those who did come was enthusiastic. This was obvious from the opening rally through to the workshop seminars and the regional get-togethers at the end.
John McDonnell gave a well received speech but to my mind it was far too internally focused, mainly taking us through the history of Jeremy's victory and the events that followed, rather than rousing us and the wider audience against the Tories and clearly outlining our alternative on homes, health, incomes and so on.
The workshops that followed the opening rally offered an opportunity for ordinary members to speak. The workshops also covered much more interesting subjects than the very inwardlooking debates in London. For example, the workshop I attended on Brexit provided a frank arena for Momentum members in both smaller groups and the workshop as a whole to voice their growing discontent with the current obsession on Brexit and a desire for Labour to shift the debate onto "Labour" issues like housing, health, inequality, transport. The second workshop I attended was on how Labour could win. This was attended by more than 150 members and yielded a continuous stream of ideas and suggestions for improving the Party's policies and presentation.
On the negative side, a number of the workshops were on duplicate subjects as a result of some last minute cancellations.More importantly, the subjects covered by the workshops were very limited. For example, we clearly needed a workshop on the media as well as on some of the key issues such as housing, inequality and transport.
While it was the case that the ‘Grassroots Momentum’ conference in London was too dominated by motions, voting and elections, rather than meaningful debate - the Birmingham event suffered from the opposite fault. There were no votes at all, not even a show of hands to give a general idea of the thinking of the members present. So, where there was controversy such as in the Brexit workshop, Momentum’s leadership was unable to gain any definite feedback. To make matters worse, many of the workshops didn’t appear to be making notes of the excellent points coming from the floor.
I don’t see much hope for ‘Grassroots Momentum’. It appears to be divided within itself and in danger of becoming quickly marginalised. In contrast, mainstream Momentum’s mass membership and money, and support of the Labour leadership, give it every prospect of becoming the central focus of left activity within the Party. In my view, it would make much more sense for those who dislike the new Momentum constitution and the approach of the ‘mainstream Momentum’ leadership to strive to change both within Momentum.
For the left to split away yet again in a vain attempt to create a pure and democratic organisation is likely to achieve nothing but division and setbacks for the left. For example, the mission statement agreed at the London conference authorised ‘Grassroots Momentum’ to join forces with Red Labour etc. and put up an alternative slate for Labour’s National Executive Committee. This would be a disastrous course that would alienate almost all of Momentum and left Labour Party members who naturally want to see a democratic, united left.