No momentum

First published on Progressonline for ‘the Last Word’

The clash between the Trotskyists (Laura Murray’s term) and the ‘alt-Stalinist’ (the Trotskyists’ term) within Jeremy Corbyn’s outrider group Momentum has come to an ugly head this week. Murray, in founder Jon Lansman’s camp, has come out swinging for Jill Mountford of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. The accusation is their apparent intentions being that they are preparing Momentum to be an alternative political party. Some would say they are ‘asset stripping Labour’. I could not comment.

But the argument that is being propagated by Lansman – and his media supporters Owen Jones and Paul Mason – is that Momentum minus the AWL would be totally fine. This is not true.

First, without the AWL there would be other ‘sectarians’. There is Jackie Walker’s faction and the so called-Labour Representation Committee, Red Labour (which Paul Mason tells Daily Politics is a front for his former group of choice, Workers Power), and Nick Wrack and his acolytes. But it is not just far left groups, but the general secretary of a now Labour affiliated union, the Fire Brigades Union, too. It seems Matt Wrack (yes, brother to Nick) is to Momentum, what Len McCluskey is to Labour.

Second, even if all these ‘sectarians’ were rooted out you would be left with the those outside Labour from a very different parts of the left – those in and around the Stop the War coalition. Andrew Murray (father of aforementioned Laura) is* formerly a longstanding and senior member of the Communist party of Britain and there are others around Corbyn that are former Respect and remain incredibly close to George Galloway. Of the groups and intellectual traditions outside Labour, the AWL are far nicer than any of anti-imperialists. Laura Murray’s own attack on the AWL proves this.

Third, with or without the AWL, the rest of the sectarians and the anti-imperialists, key people in Momentum are hell bent on deselecting Labour members of parliament. Even when chief whip Nick Brown is the keynote speaker at the Momentum North conference the delegates ignore his call for ‘unity’ and demand a change to make it easier to deselect Labour MPs – Brown included I imagine.

All Labour-family groups have a website and aim to get stories in the media. Most have an elected board and some even have staff. But national delegate conferences organised almost entirely along constituency boundaries to determine an agenda different to Labour’s is something else. When you take out the spin from the various factions – and it seems founder and owner Lansman is winning – what do we know about Momentum? While the party is told to shut up and get on the doorstep, Momentum – as our deputy editor Conor Pope pointed out on the Daily Politics – is rowing about a conference due to be taking place in the short campaign.

Playing expectations

‘People said we would lose out deposit – we didn’t. People said we would come fifth [behind an independent] – we didn’t’ are not the remarks of a party ever thinking about power. They are however the unattributed comments of those in the leader’s office trying to win a silly expectation game about Labour slipping from second to fourth in the Sleaford and North Hykeham byelection.

What cannot be spun is the latest YouGov poll. Mike Smithson reports that ‘just 51 per cent of general election Labour voters tell YouGov that they now would vote for [the Labour] party’. That is 4.5 million lost living voters in 18 months.

United on grammar schools

Next week the government’s schools consultation closes. Labour can show a united front on the error of their ways. To this end Angela Rayner, Lucy Powell and Estelle Morris lead the pack of speakers at the Progress rally against grammar schools. It is open to all Labour members and those beyond our party that oppose these regressive proposals.

In our favour is the fact Tory ideas for more grammar schools are met with indifference from voters in general and parents in particular. This is in no small part because of Labour’s academy programme. Even John McDonnell agrees. The vast improvement in state schools, especially for those in areas of historic deprivation and underachievement, has reduced the demand of middle-class parents across the country for grammar schools or private providers. In rediscovering our reforming zeal Labour can leave the Tories standing on grammar schools, stop the proposals in parliament (because some Tories will vote with us) and stand up for every child giving expression to the Labour value – no child left behind.

Reaching out to the MSM

Keir Starmer pulled a blinder this week. It is not clear who is the clear victor over the particulars of opposition day motion and the government amendments but what is clear is Theresa May did not want to have to deal with any of it and the alibi she needed for an early election – that you cannot trust this parliament with Brexit – has well and truly been removed.

Last week Corbyn spoke at the Party of European Socialists conference. A Spanish delegate Paula Schmid asked our leader: ‘You cry wolf about Brexit now but where were you during the campaign?’ The reply, according to Kevin Peel, who was there, was ‘I campaigned loads but the media didn’t cover it.’ That old chestnut.

So this week the shadow secretary of state for justice Richard Burgon headed to the MSM to put Labour message direct to the electorate. ‘Yesterday in parliament’ he told the BBC Question Time audience, ‘Labour MPs forced Theresa May to put her plan for Brexit before the British people.’ Funny how the frontbench claim credit for the work of all Labour MPs but do nothing to stop Momentum, an organisation founded by Burgon among others’ pursuing the same Labour MPs for deselection. All MPs are equal, some are just more equal than others.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress

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* The original piece stated that Andrew Murray is ‘not a member of the Labour party’. Following an email from the Unite press office it has been changed as they inform us Murray is now a member of the Labour party

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