By Simon Hannah
There isn’t a democratic organisation in the world that would make any decisions based on a consultation of their members that saw a response from only 0.89%.
But this is what has just happened in Momentum. They recently claimed 40,000 members, but only 357 people responded to their recent online survey of members.
• For other articles on Momentum going back to 2016, see here.
In the original email sent on 4 June it was announced that the survey was only being sent to the “most engaged Momentum members, including group role holders and those who have signed up for regular updates”.
The rumour is that the consultation was sent to 3,400 people, so even there a very low response rate – perhaps unsurprisingly given the consultation was only open a week! The fact is that it looks like the vast majority of Momentum members (people who actually pay money to the organisation) didn’t get a chance to participate at all.
Two of the proposals were fine as far as they went, increasing the number of regions from three to five and expand elected representatives from 12 to 20. It was the third one that sparked some controversy, to shift National Coordination Group (NCG) elections from annually to every two years.
I’ll put this out there on the table: Momentum is the most undemocratic left organisation I have ever come across. It has an NCG which barely reports on its discussions or decisions (and it is clear that the office has far more power and influence than the elected leadership), it had a Members’ Council (drawn by random lot) which met maybe once or twice before it was shut down (too critical minded apparently), they promised a Digital Democracy platform for members engagement that simply never materialised. Local groups cannot access their own data without having to jump through loads of GDPR hoops and even then you are only given partial data for phone banking. It announces a bunch of motions for conference without any input from members. It declares its candidates for NEC and CAC and then just expects us to back them without any real political engagement. Instead of grassroots it is top down.
Instead of democratic it is control freakery and ‘image management’ of the highest order.
And on top of it because 272 people out of 40,000 agreed to change the NCG elections to once every two years it now looks like the one democratic act that Momentum members get to do (elect the NCG, or part of it anyway) is going to get made less democratic.
Some people have defended the proposed shift to once every two years because it is what the Labour Party and some other organisations do. Fine. But they also have at least in theory sovereign conferences and accountable regional bodies. Momentum has nothing like that and actively shut down all attempts to make them.
Where did Momentum go wrong?
It was clear when Jon Lansman declared ‘either like it or leave’ to dissidents when the new constitution was imposed in January 2017, that Momentum was being set up as a rigid bureaucracy basing its legitimacy on occasional plebiscitary ‘surveys’ to its members.
Its obsession with online decision making – though not to the extent where they actually launched their digital democracy platform where us plebs might send in proposals that are annoying – has eroded the organisation. As a result local groups have declined, many are now not even branded as Momentum.
The real crisis for Momentum though was that it established itself almost solely as a tool for the faction fight in Labour. We were promised a social movement campaigning on the streets and instead we got the same old motions to conference and NEC slates as the left has always done. More successful this time, for sure. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Labour’s continued existence as a solely parliamentary, electoralist party has not changed.
The lack of the social movement – with the exception of the recent stunts outside Barclays Bank over fossil fuels, which have been good but we should have been doing this stuff back in 2015 – leaves Momentum as a bureaucratic tool for a limited fight within the increasingly claustrophobic walls of Labourism.
And these criticisms are not new, just as Momentum’s seemingly inevitable bureaucratisation are nothing new. Raymond Williams wrote a blistering and brilliant polemic against the methods and chronic weaknesses of the Labour left back in 1968 and pretty much every word is true today and more so.
One of the most eye wateringly accurate parts points out that, if it is a choice between a political movement and an internal faction fight in Labour “when it chooses the electoral campaign it becomes of necessity involved in the same kind of machine politics, the same manipulation of committee votes in the names of thousands the same confusion of the emptying institutions of the movement with the people in whose name they are conducted… it is directing energy into the very machines and methods which socialists should fight.” (See here)
Kind of a “stare into the abyss too long…” scenario then.
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