Momentum is a party waiting to leave a party
First published in Progress magazine
The results of the National Executive Committee elections were disappointing. A clean sweep for the Momentum-backed slate will not be good for plurality, nor party democracy. But we should be proud of the six people Progress and Labour First supported. Ellie Reeves and Johanna Baxter doubled their votes and leave the NEC with a great list of achievements to their name. Bex Bailey polled 67,000 votes and ran a superb campaign. Parmjit Dhanda, Luke Akehurst and Peter Wheeler did well and should be proud. When it feels like you are the lone voice in a party meeting, remember that this ballot shows there are tens of thousands of members who want Labour return to its winning ways.
The ‘winner takes all’ result will mean our newly elected representatives will berate, rather than listen to, Labour members who do not agree with everything the leadership does. We will be lumped in with the parliamentary party – no bad thing considering it has the mandate of 9.3 million people – to downplay our ideas as careerist or ‘rightwing’. Yet there will not be many Progress members in receipt of the £5m of Short money used to staff the leader’s office, and even fewer on six-figure salaries. None who share stages with rightwing autocrats like Vladimir Putin, for example.
Early signs confirm our worst fears. Triumphant NEC candidate Rhea Wolfson gave her first interview to Solidarity, the in-house newspaper of the Alliance of Workers’ Liberty, a group proscribed by Labour conference in 1990 when it was known as Socialist Organiser. She took this opportunity to support ‘mandatory reselections’ and to oppose ‘political expulsions’ – code for letting in people who stand against Labour and support revolutionary, not parliamentary, change. It is a pretty stark wake-up call to the Labour members of parliament who thought it best to sit this NEC race out. It is your job that she, and her acolytes, are going for. Not those of Tory MPs. Better luck next time.
But all is not lost. When the new reps start in September, George Howarth also replaces Dennis Skinner. Overall there will be a net loss of only one seat. The GMB’s ballot, moving the organisation away from the hard-left, will have repercussions as yet unknown, but likely largely positive. Equally, Tom Watson getting a grip on the hard-left infiltration of the party will mark a turning of the tide.
While prospects for moderates may look bleak, it is Momentum, not moderates, that is planning for a split. On its creation I welcomed the organisation to the Labour family and set out some ground rules. I even offered to partner with it if, first, it made its organisation for Labour members only – we keep being told that party membership is bigger than ever, so why recruit beyond it? Second, it should rule out any support for deselections or a change of the rules for mandatory reselection – you cannot debate the future of the party and country with a political gun to your head. But it did neither.
Its evolution since shows its drift from Labour. All Labour-family groups have a website and aim to get stories in the media. But, in a further contrast to Progress, and groups like Open Labour, it presents itself directly to the electorate. Momentum runs voter registration drives, rejecting Gloria De Piero’s excellent campaign pack, and prints its own branded materials and collecting the data for itself, not Labour. It is data-mining British voters with petitions and email campaigns, and appears as Momentum at protests, pickets and now gay prides. This is not a party in a party, but a party waiting to leave a party.
Just look. Its national executive, trade union affiliations, membership processes, its conference alongside Labour conference and data on Labour members – harvested by the private companies set up to run Corbyn’s leadership campaigns – all look like the precursor to an asset-strip of the Labour party.
It is hard and unpleasant for Labour moderates at the moment. But look how often the ‘Mr Reasonable’ mask slips from John McDonnell’s face; how, on the day Jon Trickett launched a rights at work policy, the leader’s office threatened in the media to sack party staff; how Momentum is frustrated that taking over the party is not as easy as it hoped. Why? Because members like you remember how proud you felt the day the national minimum wage became law and, at a stroke, 1.5 million people – two-thirds of them women – got a pay rise; because members like you want to see something similar again. The Tories are bad enough to lose. Labour just needs to be good enough to win. So comrades, don’t despair.
Richard Angell is director of Progress