I was honestly struggling with what to write about for today. I’d written an article, a long one, to come out after the election. I wrote it back in April when it looked like Labour was heading for a historic wipe out. In it I predicted the, no doubt huge, defeat would be blamed on Jeremy Corbyn personally and the adoption by the party of a centre left position. That this in turn would lead to a leadership contest where the contenders would compete to see who could be the furthest right, who could be the nastiest to the poor and vulnerable, who could get the damn immigrants onto boats fastest and who could craft the most reactionary foreign policy. Labour would elect a leader and platform so right wing we couldn’t even call them Tory-lite anymore. The left would be purged from the party and Britain would be left with a choice between two Tory parties competing to move furthest right. I predicted, in essence, the death of the parliamentary route to Socialism. In it I gave up on democracy.
But this didn’t happen. Labour spent the election climbing in the polls. Despite the divided party we had before the election and all the sniping things were turning Labour’s way. No longer filtered by a right wing media, who were doing everything to defame him, the real Jeremy Corbyn was able to speak directly to voters. And voters liked what they saw. Coupled with a radical social-democratic manifesto, offering a Britain serving the many not the millionaires and a real change from failed unfettered neo-liberal capitalism, it started to look like there was hope. When the exit poll came up on BBC news I, drunk of rum, began to sing the Red Flag louder than I should have in my friend’s living room. He has neighbours you know.
Yes, Labour didn’t win. But it achieved its largest single increase in the vote share since the election of 1945. Labour gained seats for the first time since 1997. Jeremy Corbyn no longer looks like a loony left relic from a bygone era but a Prime Minister in waiting. The left is ascendant in Britain. I can’t think of another country on Earth where that’s the case. Far from being the reactionary home of Brexit we could be a shining light of liberty and equality for the world.
I have never been happier than when I deleted that article.
So what was I going to write about today? Gloating isn’t really my style, complaining is, which is much more mature. I had to say something about the election, but what? Then Alan Johnson said something stupid and I was saved! Hooray!
Alan Johnson, former Shadow Chancellor who served in a number of cabinet posts during the Blair and Brown governments, has called for the organisation Momentum to be disbanded.
For any of you who don’t know Momentum is a left wing campaigning organisation that was formed out of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign. Its purpose was to organise the left within the Labour Party, but more specifically to help turn those young people and people who’d never gotten involved in politics before who were excited by Corbyn’s leadership campaign into Labour Party activists.
Since its inception it has been faced with constant attacks from the right who, used to facing a disorganised left who couldn’t organise a revolution in 1789 Paris, feared losing their stranglehold on the party. No less of a figure than Labour’s own would-be Macbeth Owen Smith has called Momentum a “party within a party”.
Smith’s comments were a deliberate attempt to evoke memories of Militant. A left wing organisation from the 1980s whose expulsion from the Labour Party was necessary to transform Labour from the party of democratic socialism, the working class and Aneurin Bevan (founder of the NHS) into the party of privatisation, the middle class and Tony Blair. Alan Johnson, in his calling for a similar purge of Momentum, also harkens back to Militant. Johnson firmly believes, or says he believes, that Momentum will like Militant before it soon try to deselect right wing Labour MPs.
But beyond scaremongering Johnson says it’s time to call time on Momentum because its purpose has been achieved. Momentum, in Mr Johnson’s view, was created to defend the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and Corbyn is safe after his stellar general election and post election polling performance.
But these characterisations, perhaps deliberately, completely miss the point of Momentum. Yes Momentum came out of the 2015 leadership campaign, supported Jeremy again in the 2016 leadership election and has defended him consistently against attacks from the Labour right but this is not its primary goal or focus. That is, as has always been stated, to organise activists and achieve a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.
During the 2017 general election Momentum ran training sessions for activists to teach people who’d never been politically active before how to do it. Momentum produced comic videos encouraging people to vote Labour that were watched 10 million times during the election on social media and were probably at least partly responsible for the “youthquake” that helped Labour close the gap on the Tories. And most importantly Momentum organised new and old Labour activists.
I don’t know how familiar most of you are with Labour Party politics or political campaigning but as my multiple articles shilling for Labour have probably revealed I am a party member. I have been since before Corbyn and was an activist before I was a member. Activist organisation within the party is woeful. My local party has next to no organisation. They would never tell members when they were going campaigning, when meetings were and it was next to impossible to find out. I only ever went campaigning because I had a friend whose mother was pretty senior in the party so he sometimes knew when shit was happening. There was no mechanism to divert Labour activists to marginal seats where they were needed most.
Momentum came along and plugged that gap. I truly believe the Momentum run website My Nearest Marginal was vital to Labour’s 2017 general election campaign. The website was a database of Labour campaigning events, trawled for by Momentum activists, in marginal seats across the country. On the website you would put in your postcode and the website would give you the name of the marginal constituency closest to you, a list of their planned events including assembly points and contact information within the constituency party.
And it didn’t only do this for left wing or Corbyn supporting Labour MPs. During the general election through My Nearest Marginal I personally did work for two Labour MPs in marginal seats. Tulip Sidiq in Hampstead and Kilburn and Neil Coyle in Bermondsey and Old Southwark. Campaigning on the streets for the former and doing some administrative work for the latter at a Momentum office in the TSSA building. A local activist at the Hampstead in Kilburn Labour Party told me they had received help from “thousands” of activists coming from outside the constituency and had so many volunteers on election day they were having to send some to nearby Hendon as there was simply not enough for them all to do.
Both these seats were held for Labour, despite there being feelings before the election that Labour MPs in marginal seats like these were headed for the gallows. But with the help of Momentum activists they weren’t. These MPs were not Corbyn loyalists. Neil Coyle was staunchly anti-Corbyn having made repeated attempts to undermine his leadership. From signing a letter in the Guardian saying he regretted nominating him in 2015 to continuing to brief against the Labour leader in the right wing press even as the election was called. And yet those dang far-left Corbynistas are the reason he still has a job. No need to thank us Neil. We know you love us really.
But, the point, as we can see here Momentum isn’t trying to get rid of the right, it’s helping re-elect them!
When the election started to turn Labour’s way and Jermey Corbyn’s leadership wasn’t under threat we could see how Momentum had evolved and could now fulfil its true purpose. Not as Jeremy’s praetorian guard but as a street team for the whole Labour Party! Whether you call us Trotskyists or not. Though, if you care, we would honestly prefer not.
You see Momentum isn’t really focussed on internal party squabbles when it can avoid it. It does not, as it has been accused, seek to remove elected Labour officials who do not agree with its ideological line and replace them with its own. Nor does Momentum train its members to win Labour selection battles to again increase its ideological dominance of the labour Party. Momentum only trains activists. Momentum doesn’t have MPs sworn to its banner. Momentum also doesn’t receive millions of pounds in donations from right wing business people to support its cause. Those activities could be considered the actions of a Militant style party within a party.
But do you know who does do all those things ?Progress. The party within a party started by Blair’s inner circle to push right wing ideas on Labour. Whose magazine Alan Johnson, Momentum’s accuser, has written for. I see Mr Johnson is not so concerned with parties within the party when it’s his own set.
Momentum is an organised group of people within the Labour Party. But in this it is not alone. It is joined by such groups as Progress, Labour First, Compass, Open Labour, Blue Labour, Saving Labour, the Fabian Society, I could go on. Honestly right wing Labour people, you have so many organisations, how do you keep up? However there are three differences between these groups and Momentum.
Momentum is an organisation of activists, it does not have its own MPs.
Momentum is focussed on campaigning for the Labour Party in general in the wider world, not merely pushing its own agenda during internal party battles.
It is left wing rather than right wing.
And there’s the rub. The right is perfectly happy with parties within the party so long as it’s them who are doing it. Hell, they’ll make a dozen parties within the party! Seriously Labour right how do you afford all those subscription fees?
So no, Momentum should not disband. The left should not disorganise simply so the right can restore its grip on the party and kick Jeremy Corbyn and the left back out to the fringes or even the party itself. Momentum must continue, not just for the sake of the left and the millions of people a true anti-austerity force in British politics has excited, but for the Labour Party as a whole.
The Conservatives are the party of the rich, they can rely on big money donations from wealthy individuals and businesses. Labour will never be able to match the Tory war chest. Instead Labour’s strength comes from its people and that’s who Momentum is exciting, training and utilising. Labour doesn’t need to get rid of Momentum, it needs more Momentum! I’d suggest incorporating them more directly into the structure of the party if I didn’t think this would diminish the group’s independent dynamism.
Momentum was vital to the growth in Labour’s vote in the 2017 election. Without them, honestly, I don’t think it would have happened. And when the next election is called, whether that be in five years or five months, and Labour wins it will be Momentum wot won it.