ONE OF THE GREATEST SURPRISES OF THE ELECTION took place in Sheffield Hallam, which has never had a Labour MP. Against all predictions, Jared O’Mara, a vocal Corbyn supporter, defeated former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
This would not have happened without Momentum. The regional Labour Party had not identified Hallam as a key marginal seat - although Clegg only won it by a margin of just over 2,000 in 2015. It was clear that Jared was supposed to be nothing more than a paper candidate. It took almost a week for General Election leaflets to arrive.
Even though the first CLP campaign meeting was packed with over 100 people, the CLP executive stuck to its decision to run a defensive mini-campaign. Members came up with tons of useful ideas: we should have a fundraiser; organise car cavalcades; produce leaflets about the cuts to the education budget; have a proper social media campaign and organise a public meeting to present Jared to the public. He is a long-standing disability campaigner and has run twice (unsuccessfully) for the council, but was virtually unknown.
But no - pretty much all initiatives from below were shut down and the campaign ‘plan’ ignored large areas of the constituency. Instead, volunteers were directed to help out in the neighbouring constituency of Penistone & Stocksbridge, to defend the seat of anti-Corbyn MP Angela Smith.
We ignored these defeatist instructions and organised what amounted to a parallel campaign. Momentum organised a very successful canvassing event with a Bernie Sanders campaigner, who inspired attendants to go beyond the “Voter ID” process that has replaced real canvassing (ie, talking to people). We equipped volunteers with a fact sheet on the betrayals of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems. We organised leafleting and canvassing sessions, focusing on schools and student accommodations and drove the candidate to various events - something that his election agent should have done.
We also got Momentum nationally on side which was very helpful in directing volunteers towards Hallam. Over the course of the campaign, hundreds of volunteers came along, the vast majority of them very much on the left of the party.
It was a political choice to ignore how the tide was turning. If I am charitable, I would say it displayed a lack of confidence in the manifesto and Jeremy Corbyn. Otherwise I would say the actions of the local Labour leadership came close to active sabotage.
is political education officer, Momentum Sheffield,