Mass movement or personal fiefdom?

for-the-manyMomentum leaders may be taking its supporters for granted, argues Richard Angell

First published on ProgressOnline

Momentum is not just the new establishment of the Labour party – those in its leadership are really enjoying their new position as the people in charge. They can run the commanding heights of the Labour party from an app available on iTunes.

They have embraced factionalism for the Uber economy and cut out both the workers – normally organising for political events requires long hours and lots of volunteers – and vast committees making the decisions. He who owns the data has all the power. Jon Lansman, I am told by someone on the current Momentum national committee, decided to stop his delegates prioritising Brexit at Labour party conference in Brighton without the wider committee’s approval. Surely Lansman founded the organisation to be a mass movement not a personal fiefdom?

When Lansman brazenly instructed one of his fixers to tell delegates that Brexit was ‘already set to be debated on the Monday morning conference session’ they knew all that was scheduled was a (very good) speech by shadow secretary of state for exiting the European Union Keir Starmer and a glorified question and answer session. Worse, if you look at the wording of the missive, it acknowledges that the Momentum membership is pro-European and wanted the debate. Were it not its own allies doing it, the so-called Campaign for Labour Party Democracy would have gone berserk. It is not just former national committee member Michael Chessum and those around the Alliance of Workers Liberty that have noticed that at the first sign of trouble the Momentum leadership use stitch and fix tactics to save Jeremy Corbyn’s blushes.

It is fair to say that when Lansman instructed his members to vote to create three new places on the NEC for ordinary members, no one thought he was creating them to take one of the places for himself. Yet that is exactly what happened. The veteran Bennite, who is in and out of the leader’s office more than some of their paid staff, is not really a ‘normal member’.

It is not just Lansman’s candidacy that takes Momentum members for granted. None of this slate are part of the wave of new members who joined to elect, or re-elect, Corbyn. They are not newcomers who turned up campaigning for the first time and have ‘caught the bug’. They are factional warriors more interested in controlling Labour than Labour controlling the country. Rachel Garnham – currently a national policy forum representative – has been a member for over 20 years, and Manchester city councillor Yasmine Dar over five. Between them their active membership is on average 22 years, not 22 months. Why are they not standing someone from the junior doctors committee, a young person who voted Labour for the first time this June or a public sector worker fighting to scrap the cap?

It is almost as if it is not about the (many) Corbynistas – those who joined for a new kind of politics – but about the (few) Bennites taking the control they have long fantasised about.

So now they have control, we can focus on beating the Tories, right? No. The party ‘democracy’ review being carried out by Corbyn’s political secretary Katy Clark seems less about welcoming in new membership and more about delivering on hard-left hobby horses. Clark is going on secondment to run the process full-time – they are even recruiting a replacement political secretary to cover her existing duties, meaning the party is easily spending six-figures on staff costs for this review. She is joined by union man Andy Kerr and Islington councillor Claudia Webbe. There is no pretence at unity, just uniformity. Three people from one political tradition proposing changes to the advantage of their faction, what could go wrong?

From what I have ascertained – from conversations with Clark herself and others – is that it is a three-part process. One, consolidating their majority on the NEC – they seem to have the NEC youth representative and the BAME Labour post in their sights. (Apparently party democracy is only good when you get the answer you agree with.) Then they want more places for party members without the numbers of NEC members increasing further – considering unions will not ever give up their increased number of places that means they are coming for those representing members of parliament, councillors and members of the European parliament. This will be agreed in January. Second, around March, reforming local constituency Labour parties and party regional structures. There is talk of directly electing Labour council group leaders and regional directors. Some will worry that this will lead to mandatory reselections and control of selections by the back door. Finally, conference, its processes and ‘the stuff the unions are more bothered about’ in the summer. None of this is about new members, or winning a Labour government.

Time and again Lansman and his inner circle treat the Momentum membership with contempt. They send the young people campaigning and concentrate the power in one man. They reduce their new membership from a mass movement for Labour to ‘micro-chip Labour’. The question is, will it backfire?

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Richard Angell is director of Progress

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