Momentum, Brexit and impossible maths

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By Simon Hannah

Despite being vaunted as a movement of grassroots empowerment, Momentum’s structures mean it is, perhaps not impossible, but extremely difficult to challenge any decision by its leadership. The maths are just against you.

Take the recently launched petition to get Momentum to adopt a position for a second referendum on Brexit (a ‘People’s Vote). Here I’m not interested in whether you support that or not, I’m interested in the mechanism by which it might get adopted.

So, according to the constitution (see Momentum’s ‘Democracy Q&A’) there are two methods by which rank-and-file members can make decisions.

The first is that “A proposal on Momentum’s campaign priorities can be made by a member of the NC [ National Coordinating Group], or by members’ bringing a petition with the support of 5% of members or 1,000 members.”

So already we can see that one NCG member is worth 1000 members or 5% of the membership (currently at 40,000 so 2,000 members).

Once that happens the People’s Vote motion will have to go to the NCG. If they disagree with it then it goes back to the members where it will only go to a full vote (plebiscitary) if 10% of the members back it.

This means the People’s Vote petition will need 5% just to get debated at NCG, then if it is defeated there, then it will have to get twice as many people just to go to an all members vote. So around 4,000 people.

The 4,000 is just to bring it to the table for the members to make a decision. Now if that happens — and I’m guessing at this point as it hasn’t happened before — an official email goes out asking people to vote ‘yay’ or ‘nay’. Presumably there will also be links to articles or videos for and against? Ah, who knows!

In a vote of the membership you need a 30% turn out. Now the recent NCG elections saw a 35% turn out so that might be possible. But aren’t minimum turn outs what the Tories have imposed on the trade unions recently to try and prevent strike action? Don’t worry, I’m sure that is just a coincidence.*

Here is the current problem. Momentum is supposed to have an online digital platform called My Momentum. It is referred to in the Constitution where it says “My Momentum, Momentum’s digital democracy platform, has been used to consult members on Momentum’s submissions to the democracy review. [Though in fact the results were ignored.] Soon it will enable members to initiate and vote on campaign priorities, constitutional amendments or overturning decisions by the NCG.”

Now this constitution has been around for nearly 18 months, and many people were convinced that it would be super democratic and grassroots precisely because of the online voting tools (we used to have MvX but that got shut down ages ago). The plebiscitary vote among the members is an essential part of the constitution, supposedly  —  and yet the mechanism for making it happen is still not available! My Momentum has just been launched for the Democracy Review but still has no mechanism to hear any positions from the 40,000 members of Momentum.

Why is a grassroots movement that prides itself on digital activism being so painfully slow in implementing its own digital platforms?

But this is where my real doubt sets in (what, only now?) That 35% vote was the result of many emails and online work done to get a good turnout for the leadership elections. Would Momentum put the same work in to promote voting (whether for or against) on a motion that the NCG didn’t support?

That means members have to resort to Facebook, Twitter, emails and funny cat pictures on Instagram to try and collect the 4,000 required signatures.

No it is no secret that even very well connected activists will struggle to find 4,000 Momentum members to sign an epetition. You have to hope your epetition goes viral among Momentum members. Good luck!

And all of this is against the clock  — the conference is in September after all. Any delay or dragging of feet just helps those on the left who don’t want to ‘embarrass’ the leadership by putting a controversial vote to conference. Even though Brexit looks like it will be a total disaster for working-class people and see another £35bn more in government cuts.

I am sure Momentum could be convinced to send an email out alerting people to the existence of the People’s Vote petition. But wouldn’t the temptation in Momentum HQ be to just send out one email — get a 5% vote response and then three weeks later just say “Oh sorry, it didn’t meet the criteria?”

Anyway, I hope people take the time to support the petition and try and get it to the 4,000 that it needs to get sent to a full vote. After that it needs 6,001 votes as a minimum (assuming the membership is exactly 40,000 which it probably isn’t).

As the old Naked Gun joke goes; “He’s got a 50/50 chance of living, but there’s only a 10% chance of that”.

* The same torturous logic applies to trying to change the constitution. Essentially you need to win the NCG and then they can do it through a simple show of hands. The rest of us have to slog our guts out trying to find 3,999 friends to sign an epetition. And I don’t have any friends.

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