Momentum Steering Committee member Jill Mountford responds to the 10 January 2017 coup within Momentum.
The Momentum office, or those in the Leader’s Office and union hierarchies standing behind them, evidently want critical-minded or vocal Momentum activists to quit, and leave them with a placid e-list/ database/ phonebank “movement”.
Those who now talk of hiving off a few of the stroppier local Momentum groups under the banner of some other Labour left group, or a Momentum Mark 2, are (out of understandable anger) playing into the coup-makers’ hands. We must not give up on the fight for Momentum’s 21,000 members and 150 local groups.
The coup in Momentum spearheaded by Jon Lansman on 10 January was shocking by any standards. Just six people from the National Steering Committee said “yes”, and really little more, to a long and significant email and its four big attachments, without discussion, debate, amendments or counter-proposals.
In just 75 minutes decisions were taken to dissolve all democratically elected structures and adopt a constitution. Six people out of the twelve eligible to vote on the National Steering Committee nodded through decisions to abort all the discussions about democracy in Momentum due to continue at the National Committee and a scheduled national conference in February.
An email from “Team Momentum” swiftly followed to National Committee members, informing them that their committee had been abolished, and ending with a suggestion that they quit if they don’t like it! Another to the wider membership, focused on selling the changes as an exciting step forward to a brighter future.
In the run-up to the coup, the coup-makers took their stand on the merits of online one-member-one-vote as against meetings, delegates, and conferences.
Yet no explanation was offered to the 21,000 plus members as to why these fundamental decisions were imposed by a snap vote of just six people via email. Or why the new constitution, imposed by those six, gives the 21,000 so little say.
Under the new constitution, about the only check on the unelected directors of the companies behind Momentum, and the unelected office staff, the anonymous “Team Momentum”, is a National Coordinating Group. Only 12 out of 28 or 32 NCG members are to be elected by the Momentum membership, and the NCG is set to meet (or “meet” – the constitution provides for email exchanges like 10 January’s to count as meetings) only four times a year. Online plebiscites will be able to block office or NCG moves only in extreme circumstances. Momentum’s active local groups will have no say at all.
This is the new kind of politics? It reeks of the old kind. Flout democracy, bypass the members who cannot be trusted to make real decisions, and then dress up the mess as new and exciting.
Many Momentum members are very unhappy about the 10 January coup, including many who wanted a big role for online one-member-one-vote. (Those of us who have pressed for a democratic conference certainly wanted the facility to meet, discuss, decide, monitor, and call to account, rather than just plebiscites administered and interpreted by the office; but we’d support a role for online voting too).
Momentum members have plenty to discuss now: about how to organise, about the task of transforming the Labour Party, about establishing horizontal communications between the active membership in local groups.
Momentum, with its 21,000 members and its 150 local groups, is still worth fighting for. The project to transform the Labour Party into a broad, open, democratic socialist party, set back by the 10 January coup, remains on the agenda. We need a mass organisation to do that, and that means keeping the members of Momentum together and helping them gain the means to organise.
We should not give up in despair. We should not be tempted by schemes to hive off a few of the feistier local Momentum groups under the banner of some rival left group, or to declare a rival mini-Momentum. We should not abandon Momentum to the coup-makers.
We will continue the battle for an open and democratic Momentum, in the new NCG or wherever we can. Immediately, our job is to sustain and build the local groups and to organise the best possible intervention into Labour Party branches, CLPs, and Young Labour groups.
Activists can best contribute by helping to establish an open and democratic local groups network, a forum where we can discuss ideas, tactics, make connections and organise ourselves. There are already plans to organise for a national local groups network conference in March.
The coup just hasn’t got enough legitimacy for members of Momentum to invest it with legitimacy! It’s been pointed out that, in the survey, due to the low turnout of 40%, the number of members actually opting for OMOV represents a mere 32% of the Momentum membership. Moreover, the OMOV option which they chose would in fact be just as satisfied by a mixed or hybrid constitution (giving a role for both a delegate conference and internet voting) as by a constitution based solely on internet voting.
Since the Steering Committee acted so clearly beyond its powers, it seems eminently reasonable to treat its “coup constitution” as having been null and void from the moment it was purportedly enacted, as a result of which Momentum should simply proceed with its Annual Conference, as previously decided by its National Committee.
The depressing thing is the wider conclusion we can draw from the coup: it appears to indicate that our treasured Left Leadership of the Labour Party has shifted its position. The leadership team no longer actually wants Labour Party members (including Momentum ones) to have a role in policy-making. This seems to be because it wants no obstacles in its present headlong retreat to appease the neoliberal majority within the PLP.
Jill, surely you need to declare your candidacy for the NCG, if your strategy is to use it for opposition? You have a profile. People would vote for you. Not much time left.