Pete Firmin

Whither Momentum?

Pete Firmin
Whither Momentum?

EARLY IN NOVEMBER the Momentum Steering Committee (SC) issued a statement, “The SC recognises and regrets the discontent and frustration felt by Momentum members in recent days… The Committee recognises the need for a greater level of accountability and transparency”.

This welcome statement represented a step back from a situation which looked as if it could lead to an implosion in Momentum.

At a SC meeting on Friday 28th October, called at less than 24 hours’ notice, a majority voted that the scheduled National Committee (NC) meeting would not take place the following weekend, and that the Momentum conference, due to take place in February 2017, would take decisions by One Member One Vote (OMOV).

Whatever your views on OMOV versus delegate democracy, this was remarkable. Papers had been circulated with different views on how conference should be conducted. These were being discussed by Momentum groups and due to go to the NC for decision. And yet an email was sent out to all Momentum members early on the Saturday morning, announcing that OMOV had won the day!

There was uproar. Addressing the LRC conference on the Saturday, Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, was highly critical. Momentum regional committees meeting that weekend in London, the South East, Eastern and North East regions echoed this. Wrack and ‘dissident’ members of the SC put out a measured statement calling for an open meeting of NC members for 5th November (the date cancelled by the SC).

Thankfully, the SC majority blinked. As well as recognising the resentment they had provoked, they reinstated the NC for 3rd December, though a problem remains – they still recommend that a delegate conference should be followed by an OMOV referendum of members, something which could lead to all kinds of problems. Such decisions should be a matter for the NC. The informal meeting of NC reps on the 5th November, exchanged useful ideas around how Momentum’s functioning could be improved, ‘ownership’ of Momentum and management of resources.

This crisis highlights a democratic deficit, the most extreme and public example of a culture of over-control, lack of accountability, lack of due process, tokenism and preferential treatment. There has been a lack of clarity around Momentum with decisions being too often taken by the unelected and ‘powerbrokers’. The result too often was a lack of direction, heavyhanded control and knee-jerk responses.

With Corbyn winning the leadership a major battle was on to wrest policy, campaigns and control from the Party machine, PLP and an entrenched right wing. Yet Momentum has appeared reluctant to take this on, barely spelling it out to supporters, many of whom are new to political activity and assume that electing Jeremy is ‘job done’.

This weakness was shown by the right dominating CLP delegates at this year’s Labour Conference - and at the London regional conference on 12th November.

Without a campaign encouraging members to get involved in the structures of the Party, the right will imprison Jeremy in a right wing machine. As I write, Momentum has sent out an email announcing such a campaign.

Hurrah, this is just what has been needed! Where were the model resolutions on issues like Trident, encouraging supporters to get Momentum sponsored motions adopted by CLPs for Conference? Where is the campaign against suspensions? The successes, like getting centre left candidates elected to the NEC, show what is possible. Many Momentum public statements leave supporters wondering ‘who decided that was our policy’, creating confusion on issues like parliamentary selection. Momentum seems focused on its own campaigns, rather than arguing for the Party to adopt them, playing into the hands of the right. And in the unions, without alienating supportive union leaders, we need a drive to take support for Corbyn’s policies deeper into the unions and workplaces. We cannot rely solely on support from the top.

‘The World Transformed’, the series of meetings hosted by Momentum in Liverpool was excellent. Well attended, lively debates took place, but interaction with Labour’s conference down the road was too little. Where was the Momentum leaflet to those attending conference, rather than this being left to others?

None of this means Momentum should be simply a caucus for organising in the Party. Rather, it should be active in campaigns around defence of the NHS, education, free movement etc. But these campaigns should not be divorced from activity aimed at transforming the Labour Party. To transform the world, we need public campaigns around important issues, linked to that fight to make the Labour Party fit for purpose. One without the other will fail. Where, for instance, there is a local campaign to defend the NHS, Momentum supporters should be encouraged to participate and to get Labour Parties to affiliate. Only where no campaign exists and the Party can’t be persuaded to set up one, should Momentum think of itself acting as the catalyst to initiate one.

We must ensure Momentum is made fit for purpose before, as well as at, its conference in February if we are to seize the opportunities opened up by Jeremy’s election.

CWU and Hampstead & Kilburn CLP