Britain: Momentum steps up organising to transform society

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Disparaged and smeared by the Labour Party machine and corporate media for almost two years, Momentum — a grassroots group of Labour members committed to the socialist politics of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — came out fighting during the campaign for the June 8 general elections.

Spurred on by a sense of idealism, this campaign came close to sweeping Labour into government on the most transformative manifesto for a generation.

Momentum has already achieved a huge amount, from playing an instrumental role in turning the traditionally right-wing seats of Sheffield Hallam, Canterbury and Battersea red, to transforming Labour into the largest left-of-centre party in Europe.

But after the dizzying election results, the route forward for Momentum was not obvious. Some on the Labour right hoped it would fold or be absorbed into the ossified structures of the Labour Party itself. Instead, it is opting to gear up for the next fundamental steps.

Permanent campaign

It is clear that the Conservatives will seek to trigger another general election at some point — and run on a less laughable platform than the farce of the June 8 campaign.

Though the Tories make the mistake of adhering to dated assumptions about campaigning on the centre ground of British politics, they will not repeat the mistake of putting forward categorically unpopular flagship policies or taking a complacent approach to campaign infrastructure.

There is even talk of a Conservative equivalent of Momentum being set-up, though the prospects for such a project are dubious.

Momentum has accepted there will be fewer open goals when there is another snap election. This month, it launched its general election campaign and set it sights set on the constituencies of Tory ministers Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and Iain Duncan Smith.

Momentum aims to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for any upcoming election. Local Momentum groups in safe seats are being encouraged to twin with groups in nearby marginals to expand the size of its grassroots election campaigns in previously unwinnable seats.

The success of Labour in the traditional Tory stronghold of Canterbury indicates the huge potential of collaboration between the grassroots left and the student movement. If this kind of collaboration came to full fruition, Labour could win almost every university town in the country.

Beyond elections

There are, however, still key questions that need addressing. Winning elections is not enough to transform British politics and making politics inclusive, participatory and truly democratic is an ambitious project.

Local Momentum groups also have huge potential for increasing civic engagement outside of the realm of electoral politics. It has more than 150 local groups, but only a relatively small number have taken part in projects such as setting up foodbanks, focusing on political and economic education and other forms of education and community activism.

Many of these projects would also help deal with concerns that there are still a wealth of pro-Corbyn Labour Party members who have not engaged with Momentum and frequently have no involvement at the constituency party level either.

There was discussion a few months ago within Momentum of setting up organising academies to train new members how to canvass effectively and to set up and run their own grassroots campaigns. Since then, activist training has become a focus for the group. During the general election, it enjoyed some exceptional training input from activists from Bernie Sanders’ campaign, but the prospect of an actual academy is still on the horizon.

As Momentum grows, there will be huge potential to make it a reality. The group now has 27,000 members, many of whom only have limited experience so far of canvassing and of other forms of grassroots activism.

Union drives

Momentum already has the Fire Brigades Union and Transport Salaried Staff Association as affiliated trade unions, but its relationship with the trade union movement still has greater potential. Declining unionisation in Britain is a fundamental cause of Britain’s high inequality and the epidemic of in-work poverty and insecure work.

Just as Momentum has successfully carried out voter-registration drives, it can use its resources to drive up trade union membership and prove grassroots campaigns can have a real impact on people’s lives.

These kinds of efforts could also feed into electoral campaigns. The National Union of Teachers’ educations cuts campaigning during the general election, for instance, showed trade unions can still be a potent electoral force.

A Momentum-trade union axis could be a serious force to be reckoned with. However, it would have to avoid the old trappings of some parts of the trade union movement, such as top-down methods and failures to adequately engage with workers from under-represented groups.

But this is precisely why Momentum’s fresh approach could help, by elevating the emphasis on pluralist, anti-racist and anti-sexist politics within the movement.

Grassroots

Finally, Momentum must grapple with how to change the Labour Party and ensure it is connected to its grassroots. There is a growing consensus that the MPs’ nominations threshold for Labour leadership elections needs to be lowered from the current 15%. But there is a lot more to party reform than inclusive leadership contests.

Labour’s ordinary members have been vindicated, from those who endured the days of “War on Terror” jingoism and a shadow cabinet promising not to represent the unemployed, to those who have joined over the past two years.

Momentum insisted there is no binary choice between electability and a democratic socialist politics and the result has been an unprecedented surge in the left’s popularity. Momentum proved the naysayers wrong and frankly many members now feel they have now earned the right to have a greater say in the direction of the party.

It achieve a more democratic Britain, it is only logical want a more democratic Labour Party.

This is a mandate to reform Labour and make the new politics a reality inside it. There is also a need to reform the National Executive Committee so it more adequately represents party members and trade unionists. It is also a needed debate about whether Labour’s membership should have a direct say in who becomes general secretary, and how to ensure decisions made at Labour Party conference actually matter.

Momentum has achieved a huge amount in a brief period, but there is still a long road to walk.

[Abridged from Red Pepper. Adam Peggs is a Momentum member.]

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