“What do you think of Momentum democracy?” – “I think it would be a good idea”

By Simon Hannah

Everyone is doing the democracy dance in Momentum. Even the old guard leadership are making some vague noises that maybe somehow things might need to kind of be different. Let’s look at some previous ‘nice ideas’ that never happened.

When the Momentum constitution was changed in January 2017 with a firm ‘take it or leave it’ message from founder Jon Lansman, there was a lot of anger about the move. It was argued at the time that it was necessary to stop certain left groups taking over the organisation and using it for some nefarious purpose like overthrowing capitalism.

It would be good if some of these people promising to ‘democratise’ Momentum actually accounted for what went wrong and how it happened over the last few years. Let’s take the most egregious examples of the road not travelled.

As a sop to the membership who were losing their regional committees and had no hope of any national conference under the new arrangements, the new constitution proposed that there be a Members Council, drawn by random lot, that would meet every six months. The website, which still flagrantly and unabashedly displays a link to the Members Council explains that;

“The Members’ Council will be made up of 50 members chosen randomly by lot every 6 months. While this may seem rather unusual, this democratic approach recognises that every member has unique skills and experiences to contribute.”

Sadly the Members Council only appeared to meet twice and was then quickly forgotten about. I can only guess that the conclusion was that in fact not every member did have a unique skill and experience to contribute.

[EDIT: I was actually informed after publishing this that it only met once. Apologies to Momentum for giving them too much credit.]

I was subsequently told by a Momentum staffer that they just didn’t have the time or resources to organise them.

Oh that’s OK then. Imagine if the Labour Party just didn’t have time to organise its national conference, or an NEC meeting? “Sorry comrades, too busy doing parliament stuff. Check your inbox though for exciting new campaigns coming up!”

I mention the Momentum staffers because they are the ones who really ran the show, not the National Coordinating Group. The relationship of the NCG to power in Momentum was a lot like the relationship of a bunch of inexperienced Councillors to power in local government. Technically they are in charge but in fact it is the full time officers and strategic directors who really know what’s what. The elected people are just there to rubber stamp what the officers have already agreed to do.

Democracy. I love it. 

The other thing that Momentum promised to do was launch a Digital Democracy Platform  so that rank and file members could propose campaigns or constitutional amendments to the NCG.

It is absolutely stunning, a piece of considered beauty, that the Digital Democracy Platform was never ever implemented. I mean wow. Like, that was the only way for the plebs to influence the organisation and they were never given the opportunity.

Look, they even went to the effort of making flow charts about how it would (might?) work.

Also by the way, kudos to the folk that had to translate the torturous proposals in the constitution into  this flowchart on how to propose constitutional amendments.

I think I got lost somewhere around the OMOV, 10%… the NCG hasn’t?? Er… 

Any constitution that needs a flowchart attached to it makes perfect sense right? Right? 

Anyway the only ‘members democracy’ we got was when the NCG wanted to give itself more power by extending its term of office to two years, then the plebeian masses got to have their say. “Yes, we endorse Ceasars rule and want to extend it to two years! Hail Caesar!”

Anyway, this stuff isn’t new. But I think anyone proposing more ‘digital democracy’ – or whatever the hell people think is the next organisational solution to a political problem – needs to kind of explain why they think it didn’t happen before. What was the bureaucratic and organisational inertia that created a left organisation with a mangled constitution that they couldn’t even make a living reality?

The fact is Momentum existed for four years with a constitution that no one gave a shit about properly implementing. That’s quite something. 

• Simon is a Clarion editor. This was originally published on his blog here.

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