Report from the first Momentum National Committee

February 9, 2016 at 6:02 pm (labour party, left, posted by JD, socialism)

By Ed Whitby, North East and Cumbria delegate (personal capacity)

On Saturday 6 February, a Momentum National Committee met for the first time in London. Just the fact of Momentum holding its first democratic national representative meeting was a success. The procedure could certainly have been improved – there was not enough time for local groups to prepare properly for the regional meetings, indeed some regions didn’t meet at all, and for both the regional meetings and the NC, many documents were either not presented until the day or circulated at very short notice. Nevertheless in many groups and regions it appears there was a lively process of electing delegates and discussing issues, a process which has helped to draw Momentum together.

In general delegates to the meeting pushed things in the direction of greater democracy and a more radical political line. I will summarise here but also publish some of policy passed, remitted, etc, soon.

A summary of what was decided by the NC

– The basic statement of aims was amended to refer more to socialism and the working class. It is still, in my view, far from adequate, but it was agreed as an interim statement to be reviewed by the Steering Committee for redrafting in consultation with NC members and local groups.
– Momentum is oriented towards organising within Labour, as well as broader campaigning.
– Momentum will become a membership organisation. It will encourage its members to join Labour, but anyone who wants to support Labour and is not a member of a party organisationally opposed to it can join, be a representative, officer, etc.
– Momentum will work with others on the left, who are free to distribute their literature at Momentum public meetings, etc.
– In addition to local groups and regions, there will also be the possibility of specific Momentum campaigning organisations: the document specifically mentioned Momentum NHS.
– We agreed to set up an interim Student and Youth Committee made up of student and youth members of the National Committee and nominations of student and young members from regions and a formal more detailed proposal on this work was referred to the Steering Committee.
– It was reported that some regions were already organising policy conferences, but the proposal for holding regional and national policy conferences was remitted to the Steering Committee for further discussion
– A summary of votes of North East and Cumbria proposals are listed at the end of this report.

National Committee and Steering Committee

The NC meeting was attended by 53 delegates (26 from the regional meetings, 8 equalities reps, 11 from various Labour left groups and 8 from trade unions – Unite, TSSA, CWU, Bakers, ASLEF and FBU). About eight delegates were also members of left organisations not formally represented, including two from my organisation Workers’ Liberty. Copies of Solidarity, Socialist Appeal and Labour Briefing were sold at the meeting: a welcome exchange of left-wing ideas. There were people active in a number of unions not formally represented, eg NUT and PCS, and in campaigning organisations including the People’s Assembly and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

The NC will meet at least quarterly. It also elected a Steering Committee to meet more regularly and guide the organisation. The eight representatives from England elected to this committee are (designations indicate who they represented at the NC meeting – they were all elected to the SC as individuals): Jill Mountford (London), Michael Chessum (London), Marsha Jane Thompson (Eastern), Jon Lansman (Left Futures), Sam Wheeler (North west), Jackie Walker (LRC), Christine Shawcroft (Labour Briefing Coop) and Cecile Wright (Black and Minority Ethnic).

They will be joined by four trade union representatives, one rep from Scotland and one from Wales.

The membership debate

This was a big debate at the NC. First we agreed to have paid membership; those who don’t join will remain supporters.

There were proposals about who could become a member and who could become a supporter, and what rights these two categories will have.

The lack of time and clarity in advance caused real problems here, in part because the wording of the options was not very clear, but I think the NC did a reasonable job of untangling things.

The three options were:

a. Only Labour Party members can join or even take part in organising / planning meetings as supporters; though local groups can continue to organise joint meetings with other organisations which can be open to non-Labour members.

b. Membership open only to Labour members, but people can be supporters and participate in local groups, voting only on local issues not connected to Labour – as long as they do not support parties against Labour. Only members can stand for office.

c. Membership and supporter status open to any person who supports Labour and doesn’t support other parties which oppose Labour. All members can take part in all decisions, stand for all positions, etc.

The first position received two votes, the second 18 votes and the third 27. I think that was the right decision. People should join the Labour Party, and it is right that Momentum will strongly encourage this; but there are still many people coming to the organisation who for whatever reason haven’t joined yet. We need to encourage and persuade them, not throw up an unnecessary barrier (insisting Momentum members and supporters must not oppose Labour is enough). And we have avoided creating anything like a two-class system of membership.

It also positive that the NC voted, by an overwhelming margin, to allow other organisations to distribute their literature at public meetings and so on. It is right that those who support other parties against Labour cannot join; but that is no reason to create a culture which discourages debate and free exchange of ideas.

Other discussions

There was discussion, and some criticism, about how equality reps (and also the student/youth reps) had been selected. Although there was not a vote on this, there seemed to be general agreement that there should be broad, democratic equalities/liberation networks established who should allow open nominations and to elect delegates to future National Committees as happened with regions.

Michael Chessum proposed a document to create a democratic Momentum Youth and Students organisation. There was wide support for this but it was referred back to the Steering Committee. It was agreed that the youth and student reps on the NC will form a provisional Youth and Student Committee, which the SC will work and consult closely with.

The North East and Cumbria region proposed national and local policy making conferences made up of delegates from local groups. This was remitted to the SC.

The meeting voted by a clear margin not to organise in Northern Ireland. I think this was wrong. The document said that this was in line with, and for the same reasons as, the Labour Party not doing so. But that is factually wrong: the Labour Party does organise in Northern Ireland, it just doesn’t stand candidates. Moreover, the document didn’t spell out what the Labour Party’s reasons are: I would say that they are generally conservative reasons about not upsetting the “normal” operation of sectarian politics. It was argued that people in a British orgnisation shouldn’t decide or comment on Northern Ireland: surely it dictates to tell them they can’t organise a Momentum group even if they want? Anyway, this is something that comrades in NI can best take up.

Momentum Scotland submitted a report on their work. The Scottish comrades amended one document to point out that the Scottish Assembly elections, and not just the 2020 general election, are also important. Momentum NHS also submitted a report, and its activists spoke about groups mobilising for the junior doctors’ picket lines on 10 February.

We accepted a finance report, setting out some outline funding plans and proposals for employing full-time staff (eight posts to be advertised).

Affiliations

Very positively, Matt Wrack from the FBU moved proposals for unions to be able to affiliate to Momentum, including non-Labour affiliated unions if they sign up to Momentum aims.

I proposed an amendment saying that the requirement to agree with Momentum aims and formally affiliate should also apply to Labour left organisations that take a formal role in Momentum. This was agreed.

Campaigning objectives

The documents passed set out a wide range of campaigning objectives, along lines that will be familiar to Momentum supporters. I will post the relevant material soon.

In the discussion on the 16 April People’s Assembly march, which Momentum is building for, Rida Vaquas from Red Labour argued that Momentum should seek to improve and make more radical the draft demands on a number of issues: build council housing; repeal all anti-union laws, legalise solidarity; demand free education and living grants for all students. The original demands were too conservative, in some cases less radical than official Labour policy (eg it just said “Scrap the Trade Union Bill”, when last year’s Labour Party conference voted to legalise solidarity strikes). This was agreed.

There was some discussion on the Centre Left Grass Roots Alliance slate for the NEC, and some criticisms were raised. Althought it was agreed to support it. There was also discussion on Trident and criticism of Corbyn’s suggestion of building just the submarines proposal. Comrades from Socialist Appeal made good contributions on scrapping Trident but defending the jobs and incomes of workers through conversion.

To conclude

For all the problems, I think the National Committee was positive. There was lively discussion and the NC certainly did not act as rubber stamp; on a number of points the documents were amended and the proposed position changed. Moreover a wide variety of people from different sides of various debates were elected to the Steering Committee.

We need to ensure that the Steering Committee meets regular and functions well, establishing real democratic control over Momentum’s operations and working closely with local groups.

Most importantly, Momentum needs
1. To get out on the streets campaigning on big issues in the class struggle, the NHS being one of the most obvious, supporting workers’, anti-austerity, anti-racist and other struggles, and pushing for the Labour Party to do the same.
2. To develop a clear program of demands and initiatives to shake up and transform the Labour Party, involve more people, change and activate policy and crucially democratise the party.

I think we are in a stronger position to do that after Saturday.

Please feel free to get in touch, tell me what you think, or ask questions: edunison@gmail.com

Appendix
Specific proposals from the North East and Cumbria regional meeting – how the NC voted.
1) Change ‘Make Labour a more democratic party’ to ‘Support democracy within the Labour Party”- final wording: “Transform LP into a more open, member-led party with socialist policies and the collective will to implement them in government.
2) Change ‘…with the policies’ to ‘…with the socialist policies’ – see above
3) The National Committee, along with the Regional networks, have responsibility for ensuring that Momentum groups cover every locality and that all supporters/members are connected within groups and regions. – agreed and incorporated
4) The National Committee should be tasked with engaging with special interest groups, such as Momentum NHS. – agreed
5) The National Committee should meet in different regions (not always London) – agreed
6) The National Committee should organise an annual policy making conference with delegates from local groups – deferred to steering committee
7) The regions should be the largest represented group on the National Committee to ensure that there is a strong sense of democracy and representation. – almost (53 delegates (26 regional, 8 Equality, 11 labour left groups, 8 trade unions)
8) Strong desire for Trade Unionists to be involved in Momentum. However, Trade Unions having ‘block votes’ was strongly rejected by the group. National unions and regions can affiliate and can get 2 delegates to regional network meetings (i.e. the same as local groups with same rules)
9) Strong desire for regions and local groups to be able to access data in a controlled way. – agreed
10) Regions should organise policy making conferences – remitted as a policy, but regions can do this (East Midlands has one in March) it is just not a requirement for regions to do this
11) Membership and attendance at meetings: Remove the second paragraph:
Organising or planning meetings should be open to members of Momentum (Labour Party members, affiliate members, or individuals who are not members of other political parties who support the aims and values of the Labour Party*).
“Momentum groups may choose to organise campaigning activities or public events, which may be open to individuals who adhere to the ‘code of ethics.’ However, as Momentum is a Labour-oriented organisation, individuals are not permitted to promote any other political party (this includes distributing literature for or by another political party).”. We agreed to remove this and agreed that members of momentum can be labour party, members, affiliates or supporters as long as they do not support other parties to labour.

14 Comments

  1. Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

    So will Workers Liberty members be allowed in Momentum?

    Clearly Whitby thinks yes: “Membership and supporter status open to any person who supports Labour and doesn’t support other parties which oppose Labour”

    But email sent by Momentum after event reads: “Membership will be open to Labour members, affiliated supporters, and supporters of the aims and values of the Labour Party, who are not members of other political parties (except the Co-Operative Party, which has an electoral agreement with Labour).”

    Might be hard for Socialist Appeal (self-described as the “British section of the International Marxist Tendency”) to say they are not members of a political party. (NB: whether Militant ‘members’ were such, or just ‘supporters’ of a newspaper was a long running argument in the Labour Party in the 80s). And WL?

    I fully support all socialists being able to join Momentum and I also expect a fudge about the above – Workers Liberty people are hardly going to support their own exclusion.

    So it’s a shame that WL supported the exclusion of Left Unity people (I’m a member) in the Whitby text at the top. Ironic, really, as Left Unity is dominated (sadly) but Corbynistas whereas some ‘groups’ in Labour would claim to support communist revolution.

    I trust WL, so as not be hypocritical ,will be supporting rights of other Lefts to participate in Momentum regardless of views?

  2. Glasgow Working Class said,

    It is not a new kind of politics. It is old tried and tested failure. Labour will be in the wilderness for decades. Corbyn may not live to see another Labour Government.

  3. John Boadle said,

    Ed, could you clarify who can and can’t be involved in Momentum, please? You give two versions above and the email from Momentum to those who registered interest gives a third! You report firstly that “anyone who wants to support Labour and is not a member of a party organisationally opposed to it can join…” and then you say “Membership … status open to any person who supports Labour and doesn’t support other parties which oppose Labour.” These two aren’t quite the same: the first version excludes anyone who’s a *member* of a party opposed to Labour (presumably meaning standing candidates against Labour?), where the second version excludes anyone who just *supports* a party opposed to Labour.
    And then the Momentum email gives a third version: “Membership will be open to Labour members…and supporters…who are not members of other political parties”. So this wouldn’t exclude supporters of other parties but would exclude actual members of all other parties, even if they don’t stand against Labour.
    Which of the three versions was actually carried by the meeting? Because they each set Momentum’s boundary fence in a slightly different place.

    • John R said,

      The Telegraph published the Momentum National Committee proposals (see link). Option 3 (page 12) on membership referred to in the article (which was passed) is as follows –

      “Option Three: Open to anyone who does not support antiLabour
      candidates

      Members and any supporters who wished to attend planning and organising meetings would be required to support the objectives and abide by the code of ethics of Momentum. Members would have to be an individual member of the Labour Party, or affiliated supporter, or support the aims and values of the Labour Party and not be a member of another political party. Supporters could still attend local groups provided they were not a supporter of any organisation opposed to the Labour Party.

      Members would be entitled to stand for any office in Momentum and to vote in any elections or referenda. Supporters able to attend planning and organizing meetings could vote on matters within those groups but not beyond nor, if they were not a Labour Party member or affiliated supporter, to discussions or votes on matters relating to the Labour Party. Otherwise, supporters could also participate in referenda, consultative surveys and ballots about campaign priorities and policy.

      As in option one, groups could still hold public meetings, events and activities on a very much broader basis. This option means that all positions at regional and national level would be held by Momentum members who would be individual members of the Labour Party.”

      The last paragraph seems to contradict what Ed wrote though as it says only Labour members can only hold positions in Momentum while Ed says non-members can be a representative or officer.

      “Momentum will become a membership organisation. It will encourage its members to join Labour, but anyone who wants to support Labour and is not a member of a party organisationally opposed to it can join, be a representative, officer, etc.”

      http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/03570/National_Committee_3570014a.pdf

      Southpaw makes an interesting point. What would happen if (for example) the Socialist Party were to announce a name change (e.g. Militant Labour), say they were not going to stand against Labour and wanted to join Labour (and Momentum) to support Corbyn against the Labour Right (“Now is the time to be part of the struggle for socialism against the Blairite infiltrators”).

      It’s unlikely Peter Taaffe would be allowed into Labour but would he be allowed into Momentum?

      • John Boadle said,

        Thank you very much, John R for trying to clarify the murky area of just who has and hasn’t been excluded. It starts to fall into place now. Option three is what was actually carried at the meeting. Hence members of Momentum have to be LP members, but there is also a category of ‘supporters’, who can attend meetings but not discuss or vote on LP-related matters. (The wording of Option 3 is ambiguous as to whether supporters could hold position at local level.) To be in this supporter category you couldn’t be a supporter of an organisation which stands candidates against Labour.

      • Jim Denham said,

        Ed Whitby has contacted me, to clarify matters, as follows:

        This is what was agreed:

        “Option Three: Open to anyone who does not support anti­Labour candidates

        Members and any supporters who wished to attend planning and organizing meetings would be required to support the objectives and abide by the code of ethics of Momentum. Members would have to be an individual member of the Labour Party, or affiliated supporter, or support the aims and values of the Labour Party and not be a member of another political party. Supporters could still attend local groups provided they were not a supporter of any organisation opposed to the Labour Party.

        Members would be entitled to stand for any office in Momentum and to vote in any elections or referenda. Supporters able to attend planning and organizing meetings could vote on matters within those groups but not beyond nor, if they were not a Labour Party member or affiliated supporter, to discussions or votes on matters relating to the Labour Party. Otherwise, supporters could also participate in referenda, consultative surveys and ballots about campaign priorities and policy. ”

        It is very poorly worded as were most of the documents. We got this document in an email at 4pm on Friday before National committee at at 11am on Saturday.

        To sign up to momentum you have to:

        – agree objectives of momentum and code of ethics (which is essentially supporting labour and fighting for socialist policies – though again weakly worded)

        – either be a lp member, affiliated member, supports aims and values of LP and not be member of another political party (explains in debate as electoral party that stands against labour)

        – ie this excludes a) those who stand against labour b) those members of parties who stand against labour & c) those who support those (how can you support aims of LP and momentum ie aims to get elected..)

        Finally the section on who can hold office:

        •As in option one, groups could still hold public meetings, events and activities on a very much broader basis. This option means that all positions at regional and national level would be held by Momentum members who would be individual members of the Labour Party”

        … *was removed* before the vote

      • John Boadle said,

        Thanks Jim for taking the trouble to shed further light on this knotty issue. I note that the final small paragraph of Option three was removed before the vote. I guess that makes it clearer that to hold a position within a local group you would have to be an actual member of Momentum. Otherwise the position is what I had already summarised, ie you could be a Momentum Supporter whilst still being a member of another party, provided it doesn’t stand in elections against Labour? Of course that leaves some borderline issues. For example LU has stood candidates but currently isn’t doing so. TUSC have stood, but most recently refrained from doing so (in the Lower Stoke by-election in Coventry, taking place today). That decision was taken specifically out of support for Jeremy Corbyn. So you could say that LU and TUSC aren’t ‘parties which stand against Labour’ because they aren’t doing so currently. Or you could argue that they have done so up till recently and may do so again in future, so essentially they *are* ‘parties which stand against Labour’. This ambiguity is going to be removed if and when they stand candidates again, but in the meantime no doubt it will come down to local groups to accept or reject LU or TUSC supporters who turn up.

      • Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

        I’d say that it is pretty clear.

        Momentum members: “AND can not be a member of another political party.” The ‘and’ is significant; you can meet the other requirements and fail this one.

        So, in theory, No LU, SP, SWP & more. but also no Workers Liberty, Socialist Appeal, etc. allowed in Momentum – unless the latter organisations are different to the former in terms of being a party. They are not Only looser organisations, like Briefing or Progress, are not different and are not parties. I’m not revealing anything secret here; Lansman (even Corbyn) will know this very well

        It will be fudged in Momentum as:

        – ‘you can be in another party as well as Labour to be in Momentum as long as your other party doesn’t stand against Labour or call for a vote for parties other than Labour.’

        – ‘and you are not too ‘extreme’ e.g. Red Flag (unless you are very tiny)

        WL are to be condemned for their opportunistic (and hypocritical) vote to effectively exclude SP, SWP, etc.

        But revenge will arrive. If any of the parties in Momentum start being effective, Lansman & co will use this clause to kick them out – you have signed your own exclusion order.

      • Southpawpunch (@Southpawpunch) said,

        the insertion of a missing full-stop in my point above makes it clearer:

        They are not. Only looser …

  4. Peter Smith said,

    As an active Corbyn campaigner, and Labour Parliamentary Candidate in 2010 and 2015 I have found it impossible to get any response to my emails to ‘Momentum’. I have no idea who is on the National Committee or how this committee was elected. The structure seems unwieldy, unrealistic and hugely antiquated in style and approach.

  5. Steven Johnston said,

    “The NC meeting was attended by 53 delegates…”

    Oh dear, oh well these things take time to get off the ground.

  6. Rilke said,

    It is a sort of ‘grouping’, organising and managing layer for the disgruntled semi hard left egos who now want a reward and recognition for their support of Corbyn, that is all. They are already obscure in their inner workings, but will want cash, attention, moral superiority and weight of influence even though the way people are elected, appointed or promoted within this ‘grouping’ and ‘organisation’ is already utterly corrupt. I know of sound trade union activists who are utterly in the dark about this lot operate. Any one who even questions them will be instantly denounced as a Tory apologist, reactionary or traitor. This will maintain their ‘left’ ‘stance’ and protect them from criticism.
    This Momentum crowd already stink of self congratulatory arrogance. In other words, things are being organised, some faces and fellow travellers will get ‘positions’- the rest are just stuff in need of leadership and help. Same old sad story some old song. I’ve heard it already and it resonates with the twined moronic tones of petty bourgeois managerial committees and the inevitable enraged philistinism of failed idealists.
    Do we really walk the earth to see such ugliness?

    • Steven Johnston said,

      So do the capitalist class need to quake in their boots, cry help and start building fall-out shelters?

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