Thou shalt be free
As mountain winds:
But then exactly do
All points of my command.
WHEN JEREMY CORBYN BECAME THE LABOUR LEADER, many of us realised that was the easy part. Hostility of the establishment, the media, the Labour Party machine and most of the Parliamentary Party would not disappear. Momentum held out hope of creating an organisation that could co-ordinate the forces to deliver a Corbyn victory. There were major tasks: galvanising support, transforming (democratising) the Labour Party, building campaigns, winning over the electorate. There was tension in Momentum from the start. There were no nationwide structures or logistics. As a result, little support (or interference) could, and did, come from Momentum headquarters to local groups. During this crucial initial period Momentum’s growth and effectiveness was carried by what remains the foundations of the movement - activists organising in local groups.
The lack of national organisation however showed as the right became firmly entrenched in Labour Party structures. The issue of Trident was lost without a missile being fired. ‘The World Transformed’, held in parallel to Labour Party Conference, while invigorating, changed nothing and was answerable to no one.
Momentum structures were meant to be temporary until regional bodies, liberation strands etc., were were established. But it soon became clear not everyone saw democracy in the same way. The annual conference, National Committees (NC) and even lately, all Steering Committee meetings were cancelled. The last NC, which narrowly voted against a wholly OMOV system despite what some would see as ‘packing’ by its supporters, was made more controversial by a deluge of one-sided reporting supporting OMOV, accompanied by denunciations of ‘Trotskyists’ and allegations of bullying. These reports were penned by high profile figures, some of whom had never attended a local meeting, let alone the NC.
Clearly, the Chair, Jon Lansman, and his supporters were unhappy. It became impossible to elicit a response from the leadership or staff until an unannounced email detailing the new constitution arrived in email boxes of the SC one evening.
Magically, after weeks of silence, there were decisions, obviously made without time to consult nominating groups, to vote for the Chair’s constitution. As soon as the ‘target’ was hit, Jon Lansman ended the email thread (1 hour 20 minutes after it began). Obviously some people were alerted beforehand that this was to be sent out. For those not in the charmed circle it was pure chance whether they noticed! So what are we left with?
In a wonderful sleight of hand OMOV has in fact been effectively side-lined in national decision making; in Jon Lansman’s constitution, members are a minority. The National Co-ordinating Group (NCG), supposedly the ruling body, has 28 seats. Members will have 12 places, (40%), 60% come from affiliated trade unions, elected Labour officials (MPs, MEPs, etc.), one from the Scottish Campaign for Socialism, one from Welsh Labour Grassroots and four from affiliated organisations.
The NCG is unaccountable and can co-opt four additional representatives any time from anywhere. The NCG, not the membership, will elect Momentum’s officers, including the chair. The NCG can ban groups or networks. It literally has, ‘Power to do all other things necessary to achieve the aims [of Momentum].’ No real consideration has been given to liberation strands, in particular from disabled groups. Organising of BAME groups is undermined and functionally pointless.
In an even more cynical move, 50 people chosen randomly every six months will join a Members’ Council, but only for six months – so there will be no time to properly understand what is going on. The main responsibility of the Council is to encourage the “…development of activities, resources and campaigns”. Heady stuff. What this Members’ Council does not have is any right to call the NCG to account.
Individual members wanting to put forward a proposal will need 1000 votes or 5% of the membership, whichever is smallest for the NCG to even consider it. The NCG can choose to put this to an OMOV vote or simply reject it. In order to guarantee a vote at the NCG, members need 10% of members’ votes (currently around 2000); but there is an alternative.
30% of the entire membership can vote for an OMOV proposal not supported by the NCG - a pretty impossible hurdle without support from the media and access to the database. In contrast, any proposal from the NCG sent for OMOV requires a simple majority. In reality, a faction, similar in composition to Labour’s NEC, will control Momentum.
In a set of bureaucratic manoeuvres the Chair is no longer a Director of Momentum but has added Cecile Wright (the Vice-Chair who accepted the directorship without consulting her sponsoring group) and Christine Shawcroft to the Board. What now? As ever, Momentum on the ground is made up of activists organised in local groups. While some local and regional structures have not always functioned well, this is a reason to improve them, not abolish them. At the time of writing, most Momentum groups which have met have voted against these changes. Momentum cannot carry out the job it needs to on 'click’ members alone. Momentum is its activists.
We put this to a supporter of OMOV: when the time comes for Momentum to choose who it will next support as party leader, who will have the deciding voice? The members or the national office?
Leaving Momentum would be a mistake. We need to campaign locally, build and strengthen local groups and find ways to put this activism at the heart of Momentum. Hierarchies are not the way to go for a grassroots movement. And Momentum never was and never should be the plaything of a single individual.