By Sacha Ismail, Lewisham delegate
17 December was the third Momentum London regional network meeting since the summer. Having been re-elected as a Lewisham delegate in October, I attended together with Jill Mountford (our third, job-share delegate Rebecca Lawrence was away).
It was the biggest meeting I’ve attended, with about 50 people present, about 40 of whom were delegates – 35 from 20 local groups plus delegates from the London youth and students, disability and LGBT groups. Somewhat over half present were women and a fifth BME. In addition to the five delegates elected as London National Committee reps by the network (Jill, Nick Wrack, Pascale Mitchell, Delia Mattis, Sara Calloway), two NC delegates elected by online ballot were present as observers (London at-large rep Elly Baker and Anita Downs, one of two national women’s reps).
We heard a report back from the 3 December National Committee, followed by questions and discussion (an hour and twenty minutes); took reports from groups and then discussed local campaigning priorities (two hours twenty minutes); and then heard a brief report from London chair Delia Mattis about the work of the Conference Arrangements Committee for the 18 February national conference.
Report back from the NC
The 3 December NC meeting in Birmingham discussed and decided proposals about the 18 February conference. There are various reports of the meeting at that link. The London delegates submitted short reports to the network, but I only have them on paper; I will get hold of the file and add to this report.
The London NC reps took a number of different views of the meeting, which – if you wanted to dramatically oversimplify – could be summarised as three on the side of the NC majority; one on the side of the national Steering Committee; and two in between. There were quite different assessments of how the meeting went. Delegates asked a number of questions and I think the discussion helped people to get into a frame of mind to move forward in a positive way.
I should note that nobody suggested that the decisions of the NC for a decision-making delegate conference to be held in February will or should not go ahead. I hope that means that there is no thought anywhere of overturning these decisions.
I was disappointed that nobody talked about the policy the NC agreed to seriously fight expulsions and suspensions.
I was taken aback that two NC reps, Sara Calloway and Pascale Mitchell, criticised the motion passed by the NC taking a firm stand on migrants that was submitted by Momentum Youth and Students (inspired by the motion we put forward from Lewisham) on the basis that it didn’t talk about the self-organised activity of migrants. Of course such activity is very important – as Lewisham comrades will know, we had a speaker from the protests against the detention centre at Yarls Wood, which involves many former detainees and other refugees and migrants, at our local meeting last month.
But the comrades didn’t just criticise the motion. Their report seemed to say it was bad that it had been submitted. I really cannot understand this at all. Jeremy Corbyn often makes statements about migrants’ rights without mentioning migrants’ self-activity. Should he be attacked for that? And isn’t it a good thing that Momentum has taken a strong stand at a time when the right is on the offensive about this central question?
The comrades also argued that Momentum should not make calls on Jeremy and the leadership. This makes no sense to me either. Of course Jeremy has a strong record on migrants’ rights, but the party as a whole is clearly, and inevitably, coming under a lot of right-wing pressure on the issue (as on many issues). It is both our right and our responsibility to make proposals of our own and provide friendly support and pressure. There is clearly a wider disagreement about the purpose of Momentum there that needs further discussion.
Local group reports and London campaigning
As at the October meeting, we heard reports from the local groups present – yesterday about 20 groups. London Steering Committee member Simon Hannah took reasonably detailed notes and I will get hold of these, add them here and circulate them. As in October, it was very interesting and informative to hear what other groups are doing, how they organise and what problems they face. There is lots of scope for sharing experience and ideas – on political discussions, on campaigning and also on some quite basic organisational stuff. For instance, the Southwark group raised the idea of twinning which Lewisham has been working on, while the Richmond group asked a question about organisation of elists and communications we could probably help with.
We also heard reports from London Momentum Youth and Students, disabled activists, LGBT activists and women. There is a London Momentum Women launch event on Saturday 21 January.
After the reports, we discussed campaigning priorities for London. Again, Simon took notes and I will get hold of these as soon as possible. Ideas included:
• A London-wide dayschool, or dayschools, with workshops on practical skills and on political issues.
• Solidarity with various workers’ struggles, in particular the Picturehouse cinema strikes. On the proposal of Brent delegate Pete Firmin, who is a recently retired postal worker, the meeting agreed to issue a statement of solidarity with upcoming rail and post strikes.
• Workshops on understanding and working in the Labour Party – Hackney are already running these and offered to help roll them out.
• Workshops on racism and police brutality.
• Activity to highlight unjust expulsions and suspensions from Labour.
This list is quite partial – as I said I will circulate full notes soon. Various working groups were set up to make sure that proposals are taken forward. I will include contact details so that people can get in touch with the working groups to make proposals and get involved. I am convening the working group for solidarity with the Picturehouse strikes: get in touch at email@example.com
There was a question from the Hounslow group about the problem of getting motions onto the regional network’s agenda. Lewisham has faced the same problem. On the other hand, some groups feel there is a problem with too many motions being submitted. Delia proposed the creation of a working group on Standing Orders to consider and help regularise and formalise this question as well as other procedural issues and this was set up.
Should Momentum have policy?
In the context of the discussion about holding a London-wide dayschool, a discussion arose about whether Momentum needs to have collective policies at a wider-than-local-level. There is not space here to discuss it, but I want to flag up that I regard this as a crucial issue central to the discussion about how Momentum develops. In my view, while we need to be flexible and tentative, we do need at least some policies on key issues (and discussion about what those issues are) if we are going to survive and develop as a coherent political organisation, or indeed survive and develop at all.
Conference Arrangements Committee report
Delia reported on the forthcoming national conference. The conference will take place on 18 February, either in London or Birmingham. The CAC is asking groups to meet and submit motions by 21 January. An email will go out with more details – they said the office should send it out today (18 December).
A positive meeting
There has been some criticism of London region agendas being too dominated by discussions about the debate over national Momentum structures, and the lack of time for local reports, exchange of ideas and discussion about campaigning. That’s true, but I think it was to some extent inevitable given the way the issues have arisen and the debate been handled nationally.
In any case, this meeting was positive and productive, and I think it will have laid the basis for London Momentum to move forward as a network for local groups to coordinate and for developing pro-active regional discussion and campaigning. It shows the irreplaceable benefit of having regional networks in the organisation.
Let us know what you think? Write a reply? firstname.lastname@example.org
If Momentum does not make policy then there’s no point to Momentum. The organisation should make policy then persuade Labour Party Annual Conference to adopt it. Otherwise Momentum would just be a Jeremy Fan Club and canvassing/rally-and-march attending fodder. That might suit some timid souls, but it would be a return to the massive-but-passive vision for the role of the rank and file of the Blair era. People would soon drift away.
I don’t agree with the famous NC motion on migrants either but for different reasons. Mischievously it combines an appeal for migrants’ rights with support for “free movement”, presumably a reference to retaining the European Union free movement of persons. This constitutes a neoliberal unlimited labour supply entirely incompatible with the planned economy to which socialists aspire. The EU free movement of persons also privileges whites over non whites. As part of a “soft Brexit” it would maintain a supranational right, prevailing over any UK statute, for overwhelmingly-white Europeans giving them a privileged position over the overwhelmingly-non-white non-Europeans. The Left should be in the forefront of rejecting this kind of white supremacism.