A new chance for constructive unity in Momentum

Submitted by SJW on 9 January, 2017 - 3:31 Author: Simon Nelson

Workers' Liberty welcomes the statement “Momentum – a way forward”, circulated online by around 50 members of Momentum, including Steering Committee member Michael Chessum. It "call[s] on all in Momentum – both the central office and our fellow members and supporters – to focus our energies on active, outward-facing campaigns and initiatives"
"Momentum - a way forward"

It proposes conciliation to restore unity and the ability to "tolerate difference, tension and contradiction" in Momentum. It wants "a mixed democratic system for Momentum, which blends together delegate and online systems". It suggests that the Momentum conference set for 18 February should be delayed; but says it will be "a disaster for Momentum if the National Conference is cancelled".

This initiative could be a lever to bring about what we have called for since writers such as Paul Mason, Owen Jones, and Laura Murray raised an outcry, online and in the mass media, against Momentum's 3 December committee decisions: a chance "to talk quietly without media-provided megaphones and howling about sabotage, to discuss what adjustments or compromises can best keep Momentum on the road". "Those who disagree with the decisions at the National Committee should discuss within Momentum: on our side, they will find no closed doors, and a strong will for unity".

Workers' Liberty has since the beginning of Momentum argued for it to have the active campaigning orientation which the new statement favours. We have worked to promote Momentum campaigning on a range of issues: we were some of the key motivators in setting up Momentum NHS; we took the lead in Momentum Youth and Students to push for Momentum to be active for freedom of movement.

The Way Forward statement says: “The current date for the Conference is too soon. It does not allow for local deliberative democracy to decide delegates and motions. Most groups cannot organise that quickly and most people cannot attend a face-to-face meeting in the next three weeks.”

True, a conference organised starting from now, with a deadline of 28 January for motions and very limited time for people to meet and choose delegates to send to an as yet unnamed city, is likely to be a shambles. Despite the best efforts of the Conference Arrangements Committee, the Momentum office has not provided the resources needed to get a conference functioning. Whatever about that, the problems are a fact. If we are to postpone conference, then a new date must be set now. As the Way Forward statement says, it will be "a disaster for Momentum if the National Conference is cancelled" or postponed indefinitely.

Some people in Momentum have presented the current problems as a deadlock between those who support the mandate and decisions of the National Committee, in this case a delegate-based conference, and an allegedly hostile “wider membership” who feel disengaged and unable to contribute to the debate.

We do not accept that decisions made by local groups, including the committees that are elected from them, are exclusionary or seek to disenfranchise Momentum members who are not currently active. We agree that Momentum should remain united and focused on transforming the Labour Party.

That means Momentum must have some definite policies that it can take into the Labour Party, and must have the capacity for its elected conferences and committees to take decisions which will be carried out, rather than vetoed or ignored, by the office staff. Momentum should be defending freedom of movement, and not leaving Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn alone to fight for this principle against a growing anti-immigrant outcry from the right wing and even from some Corbyn-supporting MPs.

The Way Forward statement also says, rightly: “The survey sent out [by the Momentum office on 20 December] with a covering email from Jeremy Corbyn... failed to recognise the National Conference and to present compromise positions. It should not be used as the basis for any decision making". The survey – of which results will be released shortly, perhaps? we don't know - was an ill-judged manoeuvre to overturn a democratically-made decision of the National Committee.

Michael Chessum says he will be formulating a hybrid proposal incorporating delegate meetings and some online voting. The draft constitution which we are inclined to support, circulated by steering committee member and FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack and National Committee member Nick Wrack, allows for the election of officers by an OMOV vote and gives provision for local groups to decide their motion to the national conference through an OMOV vote of the local group members.

Other "hybrids" are surely possible which will retain a basic democratic facility for Momentum to develop, vote on, and act on collective majority opinions formulated through discussion, rather than just being a phone-bank database "consulted" from time to time by the office staff in plebiscitary fashion - for democratic decisions made by elected committees to have right of way.

We are open to discussion with all wings of Momentum activists to help the elected committees resolve the current difficulties in a constructive way.

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