Momentum: discuss our differences, unite to fight the Tories

Submitted by AWL on 7 December, 2016 - 12:07 Author: Simon Nelson

Momentum held its first national committee meeting in seven months on Saturday 3 December. Just over 60 delegates met to discuss proposals for Momentum’s national conference, now set for the 18th or 25th February or 4th March. Three of the delegates are also supporters of Workers' Liberty and this report is based on their reflections.

Voting on proposals was relatively closely divided throughout the day but delegates agreed to support a national conference made up of delegates elected by local groups plus delegates for regions where no local groups exist (elected by One Member One Vote), additional delegates to represent Women, LGBT, BAME and disabled members (elected by OMOV), plus Momentum Youth and Students. The committee also agreed both local groups and individuals (via the online platform MxV) will be able to submit motions to the conference. The existing Steering Committee will remain in place until after the conference. A conference arrangements committee has been elected from the National Committee.

Although some of the procedures for conference were not as Workers' Liberty hoped overall this was a positive and balanced outcome and puts Momentum in a position to move forward, develop policy and become the campaigning and activist organisation needed to transform the Labour Party and revitalise the labour movement. We believe what has been voted on will have a broad consensus within local groups.

It is disappointing then to see that some comments and reports of the meeting, from people who lost some of the votes, particularly those who argued for more provision for OMOV procedures have chosen to “cry foul” and accuse others, particularly the AWL, who are more in favour of delegate-based structures as being wreckers, behaving badly and so on.

There are a number of reports about the conduct of the meeting and where, by no means, all voting was on factional lines. We reject the suggestion that the meeting was anything other than a hotly contested debate. We understand that emotions can run high and this can feel unpleasant but all sides believed important debates were being had. Below comrades can read reports and follow the links to other reports. They should also ask questions of their delegates in order to judge for themselves what happened on the day.

As Michael Chessum, Momentum Steering Committee member says, "[if the meeting was polarised] The Steering Committee has to accept the lion’s share of the responsibility …. By bypassing and undermining the national committee – a body to which it was technically subordinate – the Steering Committee substantially overreached its mandate and infuriated grassroots activists. As a result, attitudes hardened and the regional delegates, who make up a majority of the NC, almost all arrived mandated to vote for a purely delegate based conference.”

It is indeed a shame that Momentum national delegates have not previously been able to properly meet and discuss. It is a shame that the hard voluntary work of comrades in the national office and in local groups has not been discussed and recognised. It is a shame that the organisation has not had a chance to reflect on the deeply divisive, though ultimately successful, Labour leadership battle over the summer. It is a shame that what Momentum members want from their organisation going forward has not been discussed until now. All of this would have helped improve the atmosphere on 3 December; whether it would have stopped some of the worst recent anti-Trotskyist baiting which has been part of the reaction to the meeting, we don't know.

Once again the AWL's general politics on issues such as imperialism, Israel-Palestine, Europe have been misrepresented. But worse, the “storm” has led to more general witch-hunting articles in the press, by way of broadsides against Trotskyists. Importantly, that spreads misinformation about Momentum itself.

We want to respond calmly; to say will are always ready to publicly discuss ideas where people disagree with us. The AWL makes no secret of being Trotskyists. We are proud of our tradition and in fact we share it with many unaligned comrades on the left in the Labour Party. We have worked to reclaim the Trotskyist tradition from those who have sought to distort it; we stand firmly with the authentic democratic principles of a longer revolutionary Marxist tradition. In keeping with that we try to say what we think and organise openly for our ideas.

In that spirit, we want to reiterate what we think Momentum represents.

We believe it is a tremendous opportunity for the left and we are committed to playing a constructive role in its organisation, wherever our supporters are active locally and at a national level as far as we can.

20,000 people have joined Momentum as members since it launched, numbers that are far larger than the already-organised Labour left. There are 150 local groups. These groups are standing and winning positions in local Labour Parties, helping to open up debate in the Party and discussing practically how to save the NHS, how the Labour Party should respond to Brexit and how to democratise the Labour Party and argue for socialist ideas.

That is why the AWL along with others argued for a delegate-based conference which reflects the local groups. For Momentum to be able to build a strong organisation on the ground it will need to develop committed activists who will put the decisions of the conference into action. Activists also need to be supported, and helped to develop organisational skills. Events, training and yes, online forums, can help draw in new people and make new activists.

At the National Committee there were a number of decisions which gave Momentum practical ideas to build campaigns around. A motion from Momentum Youth and Students called for a campaign to ensure that Labour stands firm on freedom of movement and for a labour movement-based campaign to defend free movement that works with others to fight against the Tories' post-Brexit plans. This has broad support and can be used to bring people together.

One of the issues is over whether Momentum should have any policy at all. We would argue that without it, Momentum will become inert, vulnerable to the arguments of the right wing of the party. Momentum needs policy and ideas to play a transformative role. Momentum needs to go beyond being a support organisation for the current Labour leadership, as important as that is. It cannot just exist as a potential database or phone bank or an intermittent lobby group on this or that policy. Being caught up in a long debate on structures will also not help build a viable left wing movement in the Labour Party.

Let's use the decisions taken to go forward — to build Momentum, build the Labour Party, fight the Tories and argue for socialist policies. Everyone loses votes sometimes, that's politics. We would urge those who disagree with the decisions at the National Committee to carry on discussing and organising within Momentum. Those who are not sure about the AWL or disagree with us, should also discuss with us.

• For arguments about why delegate-based democracy can be accessible see Janine Booth's article 'Disability and digital democracy' in The Clarion

Some reports of and thoughts on the National Committee by a variety of Momentum activists

Ed Whitby, one of the Northern regional delegates to the NC. Ed has also published all the motions that the NC passed on his blog

Nick Wrack, one of the London region NC delegates

Michael Chessum, Momentum Steering Committee member

Darrall Cozens, one of the West Midlands regional NC delegates

Jill Mountford, one of the London regional NC delegates and Steering Committee member

Rebecca Allen, one of the Yorkshire and Humberside regional delegates

Josie Runswick, one of the LGBT+ reps on the National Committee

Laura Murray, one of the women's reps on the NC

Anita Downs, the other women's rep, replying to Laura

A report from one of the South-West NC delegates (from social media):

"...to offer reassurance to rank and file Momentum members and activists.
"I was one of the 61 NC delegates in Birmingham on Saturday… and the suggestion of a Trotskyist takeover is quite frankly untrue. Similarly the suggestion that Jill Mountford and others bullied younger delegates is nothing short of disgraceful and wholly without substance.
"For the record the meeting began with a proposal to elect a new Steering Committee and this was defeated — despite the initial SC only being 'temporary' and intended to be replaced in the summer. "As someone who voted to keep the current SC my reasoning is purely pragmatic. We are holding a delegate national conference in a few weeks and no other major change is needed before then. Hardly a take over then if we changed nothing!
"We also agreed that delegates to our conference should be elected by local groups, that motions could be submitted by local groups, that policy and constitutional issues should be decided by delegate voting and that unless there was a... majority on these issues that a ballot of all paid up members would decide the matter. These are hardly the actions of centrist entryists.
"Saturday's Momentum NC was an excellent exercise in democracy. We had keen and informed debate. We had closely contested votes. We had passion and commitment. However we left with a sense of unity and with an acceptance of the democratic process. Nobody got everything they wanted and that's maybe the hallmark of real democracy."

A report from one of the West Midlands regional delegates (from social media in response to Anita Downs):

"Thank you. I, too, attended my first meeting of the NC, having been elected as the third of the West Midlands reps, and I support your version of events wholeheartedly.
"I would add that in my opinion, when I attend a meeting, what is said in the room stays in the room while what’s learned in the room may leave. In my opinion, this the fundamental basis by which trust, co-operation and emotional intelligence may flourish – by which we may find the routes to agreement, and by which we may remember that we have more in common than that which divides us.
"We exist at a time of astonishing and potentially terminal crisis: the combination of accelerating inequality, climate chaos and the rise of automation leading to progressively fewer jobs is unprecedented in human history. To stand any chance at all of facing that, we need to find the routes to a resilient, progressive politics. We’ll only get there if we all work towards that as our primary aim."