Local lad Phil Burton-Cartledge (who blogs at All That Is Solid) concludes his series of articles on Stoke-on Trent in the light of the forthcoming by-election:
Previewing the Stoke-on-Trent Central By-Election
Finally, here’s the third installment on the Stoke-on-Trent politics special. We’ve spoken about Tristram Hunt’s career in The Potteries, and we’ve turned our attention to the local scene. Now it’s time to go all Mystic Meg and break out the politics astrology charts. For which party do the stars align?
Labour have got to be the favourites. Stoke-on-Trent Central was born a Labour seat, and the party will be stretching every sinew to ensure it stays that way until the Boundary Commission kills it. Labour has some very strong cards to play. Firstly, the membership. All the Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire parties are active, campaigning organisations in-between elections. The bad old days of nothing happening unless we were asking for votes are long gone. Additionally, the combined membership of these parties are huge. Stoke Central itself is pushing 500, the other Stoke parties are more or less the same and nearby parties are, if anything, even larger. And we know people are going to travel from far and wide to help out. In short, a tsunami of Labour activists are poised to swamp the constituency, and none of the other parties will come close to matching it.
Read the rest of this entry »
A personal reaction from Phil Burton-Cartledge (at his blog All That Is Solid), a member of Stoke Central CLP and once a staffer in Hunt’s constituency office:
Goodbye to Tristram
It was nice for Stoke-on-Trent to make the news for something other than footy and the BNP. Less nice that it was my constituency party and my MP at the centre of it. Yes, as the world and its uncle now knows, Tristram Hunt is resigning the Stoke-on-Trent Central seat to take up the leadership of the Victoria & Albert in London. He can now spend more time with his young family, and it’s a role he’s temperamentally and culturally suited to. This then is going to be the first of two posts – the second will look at Stoke-on-Trent Central, the state of the local party, potential candidates and Labour’s chances of holding on to the seat. This one is all about Tristram.
First things first, Tristram’s announcement was greeted with the crows of his opponents, and the commiseration of his friends. For those identifying with the Corbynist left, this proves he was a careerist with no interest beyond self-advancement. For those arrayed against the leadership, Tristram’s resignation is a loss of talent that reflects badly on Corbyn’s prospects. There is no attempt to analyse or understand. Pigeonholing is the order of the day. The truth lies between these two poles, and I know. Because not only do I know him, have shared the local party with him for almost seven years, I used to work for him too. So if you came here hoping for a denunciation, you will be disappointed.
Readers with long memories might recall the circumstances in which Tristram became the Labour MP for Stoke Central. The fag end of Gordon Brown’s short tenure saw a scramble for seats as the 2010 general election loomed. Coincidentally, a long-running factional battle in this constituency centered around the local directly-elected mayor reached its climax. Early that year, the NEC intervened and put the CLP into special measures – in effect, the Labour Party’s version of direct rule. Letters were issued to members ruling the upcoming AGM out of order and attendees were threatened with suspension and sanction. Said meeting went ahead and the whole constituency party was placed on the naughty step. The ruling on this came very quickly on the heels of the incumbent MP – Mark Fisher – unexpectedly announcing his retirement. Two months from the election and Labour was without a candidate.
Because of the special measures and because of the proximity to D-Day, longlisting and shortlisting was the province of a NEC panel. It was at this point that Tristram’s name first surfaced, with the FT getting the scoop. Being foolish I didn’t believe he stood much of a chance – little did I appreciate the dark arts of Peter Mandelson and how brazen the party can be when sorting sinecure for the favoured. I then thought selections were a meritorious affair. Pah. The longlist was a varied field of local folks and people from outside Stoke. And then came the shortlist: it was basically Tristram and two also-rans cynically tacked on so the local party had no choice but to rubber stamp the NEC’s favoured choice. Seriously, I’ve interviewed dozens of candidates for the local government panel and I struggle to remember anyone worse than this pair. But as stitching goes, this isn’t the most egregious. I digress. Tristram was duly selected and the Potteries moved into the light of a new dawn.
Locally, Tristram made a bit of a splash. The sort of plaudits getting heaped on him now echo those greeting his arrival in Stoke. Tristram had glamour, had connections, had ambition. He was going places and that made him a good catch for Stoke-on-Trent. He was lauded by local notables as a future Prime Minister, or at the very least someone who could open doors for the city in The City. As I was unemployed and despairing of ever finding work, Tristram was kind enough to offer me a job as a caseworker in the constituency office. Given the political distance between us it did give me pause, but in the end making a living came first. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition to the casework, each of us in the office had a number of projects that aimed to define the shiny new MP in some way. For example, I was charged with putting together the ‘Stoke Stories’ conference in conjunction with the RSA to strengthen relationships between local third sector organisations, and lend any assistance and support the office could give them. This was one initiative among many over the last seven years that tried to define him. These included the backstamping campaign, the annual get together of local business leaders, the Maths Excellence Partnership, a campaign to save nursery provision, and securing an exemption for beleagured potteries from the renewables obligation. There were more! In addition to this, Tristram and his office got through a heavy caseload and secured some notable victories at the local council, with the DWP and sometimes (sometimes!) the government. Small shifts in policy or getting back monies owed isn’t Bastille storming stuff, but it is important and makes a difference to those affected by them.
Meanwhile, Tristram was something of an object of fascination for the left. As one of the best known Blairites in the PLP, and being one of the few unafraid to (occasionally) avow himself a disciple, I always found it strange why he had a weird fan club. Was it the glamour? The proximity to Mandelson? His book on Engels? Far from getting a hostile reception, trade unionists in Stoke couldn’t wait to meet him. I had self-identified Trots from elsewhere always asking after him. And even after that picket line crossing episode to deliver a lecture on Victorian civic culture and not, as per received myth, to speak on Marxism, he remained the left’s favourite Blairite. Even if to hate and troll.
The mystery didn’t end there. In person, Tristram is pleasant and funny, isn’t overly posh and doesn’t come across as a snob. But he remained an enigma both to his staff and the local party. Hand on my heart, despite working closely with him I cannot say why he decided to become a Member of Parliament. Nor, unlike Liz Kendall and her liberalism can I honestly say what his politics are. There would be many times he got up in front of the CLP to defend the Blairite commonsense about winning elections, of securing the southern marginals so we can help best Stoke-on-Trent, but there was never a sense of vision. For someone heralded as an ideas man, there were no ideas. For someone who was and remains passionate about education, I never understood where that sprang from. There was no patrician concern for the poor, which some might have expected. Nor a desire to get into power and reform our way to the New Jerusalem. Absent too was the obsession with power for its own sake – he never struck me as someone who had a personal hunger for government. On a number of occasions when asked about Tristram, I often likened him to the gentlemanly Victorian who was passing through Parliament on his way to other things.
The absence of politics was also the root of his mistakes as a politician. In the days following the 2015 defeat, he was shocked to find his opponents had laid the groundwork for their leadership challenges among PLP colleagues well before election day. As a result, the MPs not already signed up for others and happy to back him were quite modest. This absence of nous touched on other areas of work. As I wrote previously, one of the benefits of having Tristram as a boss was that he’d leave you to use your own initiative. He was not the kind of Member who took the correspondence home to check the spellings and tone. This also meant he didn’t take as much of an interest in local politics as an MP should. Meetings with councillors were ad hoc and infrequent, local party strategy was something he fought shy of, and keeping the CLP happy wasn’t a high priority. The latter undoubtedly helped contribute to it near-unanimously voting to endorse Jeremy Corbyn last summer. Unfortunately, like many Labour MPs, Tristram doesn’t and didn’t understand much the party or movement of which he is part, and didn’t show interest in advice from staff and other local Labour people about how to navigate these choppy waters. He might have avoided the embarrassment of picket-linegate if he had, for instance.
Lastly, I was not surprised to learn of Tristram’s departure this morning. Even before the election, local comrades knew my belief that if we didn’t win in 2015, he wouldn’t contest 2020. That became increasingly obvious after the Boundary Commission slated Stoke-on-Trent Central for deletion in the great Tory gerrymander. And there was the summer’s grumblings that saw a local branch take a vote of no confidence against him. If Tristram wanted to hang on he would have had a torrid time, and not in a good way. The V&A position with its reported £300k salary has saved him from all that. Other Labour MPs in similar pickles are looking for similar gilded exits.
I don’t bear Tristram any ill will. I shall always be grateful for the two-and-a-half years I carried bags. It was a fantastic job and, bleeding heart that I am, I helped a lot of people out in shit situations. We all did. But like him or not, the politics of his departure leaves the party in a weakened position and a by-election that is going to be difficult. Legacies should be celebrated. It just saddens me that Tristram’s is something Stoke Labour is going to have to overcome.
From Momentum South Birmingham to the Birmingham Board of the Labour Party
Regardless of your views on the leadership election and the movement around Jeremy Corbyn, it is clear that the Labour Party faces a huge task locally and nationally. The polls are unlikely to be that out of kilter with reality and if there was a general election tomorrow in all likelihood the Labour Party would lose, and badly.
More specifically, here in Birmingham we also face big challenges. With the Midland Metro Mayor election next year and “all-up” council elections in 2018, we will need a large, motivated and dynamic ground operation to achieve the results we want. In particular with the Metro Mayor, the Conservative candidate, Andy Street, is clearly no fool and the contest will be a very tough one. Without a significant Labour presence on the streets and in our communities, we won’t win.
The Tories have vast amounts of money and plenty of friends in the media to help put their case. The Labour Party has the overwhelming case that exists for a democratic socialist society, obviously, but more prosaically, it’s huge membership, which has more than trebled nationally in just over a year.
That membership will need to be mobilised. And in order for it to be mobilised it will need to have a say in how the party is run.
It was therefore with huge disappointment that we learned that the Birmingham Board of the Labour Party voted to exclude all members who had joined in or after July 2015 from selecting our candidates for the 2018 local elections.
Two thirds of Labour Party members have been disenfranchised at a stroke. It is also worth bearing in mind that the next local elections after 2018 will be in 2022, so selection will take place in 2021. Therefore if you joined the party in July 2015 you will face a six year wait to select a council candidate. The national Labour rule is 6 months.
This cannot be right. There needs to be a freeze date, but the one imposed by the Birmingham Board is ludicrously excessive and smacks of cynical gerrymandering.
It is also self-defeating.
How do we expect to have a motivated membership knocking doors, delivering leaflets and taking the case for Labour candidates into our communities if we won’t even let that membership select those candidates? How will we build the big, lively, well-resourced campaigns that we will need to get Sion Simon elected in 2017?
Momentum South Birmingham calls on the Birmingham Board of the Labour Party to overturn the decision and instead have the usual six month freeze date. It is in our party’s interests to do so.
Above: Mark Lyon
By Ann Field
Len McCluskey launched his campaign for re-election as Unite General Secretary at a meeting held in Glasgow last Saturday. Thanks to Mark Lyon, the International Transport Workers Federation full-timer who chaired the meeting, it ended in a fiasco.
In fact, the fiasco had been built into the meeting before it even started.
Since the summer of last year Lyon has dedicated himself to splitting the United Left Scotland (ULS), the Scottish ‘section’ of the national United Left (UL), which functions as a kind of ‘Broad Left’ within Unite.
Stage one of Lyon’s efforts was a meeting held in late August, which he dishonestly presented as a ULS meeting.
Details about the meeting were sent from email@example.com (not the actual ULS e-mail address, but a close imitation). The e-mail was headed “United Left Scotland Meeting” and signed off as “United Left Scotland”.
Lyon did not inform elected ULS co-ordinators of his meeting. Other ULS activists were also left off the e-mail list used to publicise the meeting. But Scottish Unite full-timers certainly attended the meeting in numbers – at the behest of the Scottish Regional Secretary.
Stage two occurred in mid-November, when Lyon sent out an e-mail which proclaimed the existence of the Progressive United Left Scotland (PULS), proclaimed who the PULS candidates would be for the Scottish territorial seats in this year’s Executive Council (EC) elections, and proclaimed himself as elections co-ordinator.
This meant that two PULS candidates would be standing against the two ULS candidates who had been selected at a ULS meeting to contest the Scottish territorial seats. And one of the PULS candidates was not even a UL member.
(In fact, prior to some last-minute juggling by Lyon in his personal selection of the candidates, neither of the PULS candidates he had initially chosen were UL members.)
Stage three followed quickly on the heels of stage two. In late November Lyon circulated a splenetic e-mail on the national UL e-mail address list.
Longstanding ULS members were subjected to personalised abuse, the UL National Chair was denounced for a “deeply personal, vicious and unwarranted attack” on Lyon, the ULS was dismissed as an “oppressive and undemocratic body”, critics of PULS were scorned as “a few self-interested individuals”, and the outcome of ULS-PULS ‘negotiations’ was systematically misrepresented.
Ironically, among the spurious criticisms of the ULS most consistently raised by Lyon were his claims that it was undemocratic and suffered from a culture in which abuse and bullying were condoned.
And yet here was Lyon – in the absence of any meetings of PULS members (insofar as it has a membership in any meaningful sense of the word) – proclaiming the existence of a new organisation, announcing the names of its candidates for EC seats, and launching into a prolonged tirade of personal abuse against ULS and UL members.
In December Lyon sent the first of a series of e-mails publicising last Saturday’s meeting. As had been the case in August, Lyon excluded ULS co-ordinators and a layer of ULS activists from the list he used for all e-mails publicising the meeting.
(Lyon has yet to master the art of blind-copying e-mails. Who he deems worthy, and unworthy, of receipt of one of his e-mails is therefore visible to all.)
But what was the status of Saturday’s meeting?
Was it a PULS meeting? One e-mail publicising the meeting had the header “PULS National Slate and Campaign Materials” and was signed off as “PULS”. An eve-of-meeting e-mail also referred to “our PULS meeting tomorrow.”
Was it another sham ULS meeting? Lyon used the firstname.lastname@example.org address for most of his e-mails about the meeting. And in one e-mail Lyon had declared: “PULS is not a replacement for the ULS. It is the ULS.”
Or was it just a personal venture by Mark Lyon, not subject to any kind of accountability to any broader body? One e-mail publicising the meeting was simply signed off by “Mark” and sent from Lyon’s personal e-mail address.
Another question raised about the meeting was Lyon’s statement in one of his e-mails that the meeting would be attended by “the seven Executive Council candidates we [presumably: PULS] are jointly running in the forthcoming election.”
But who were these seven candidates which PULS was “jointly running”? (And jointly with whom?)
Lyon’s problem was that by the time of the meeting the full UL slate for this year’s EC elections had been published on the UL website.
The two candidates on the slate for the Scottish territorial seats are ULS members, not the PULS nominees. And there are six, not five, Unite members from Scotland listed on the slate as standing for various industrial seats.
Saturday’s 80-strong meeting was no larger than the meeting organised by Lyon in August. In fact, it may have been marginally smaller – despite the presence of an additional five Unite full-timers who had not attended the August meeting.
So much for Lyon’s claim in his splenetic e-mail of last November: “I am part of a group of about 150 people in Scotland and growing. … We grow daily in number and strength in our region.”
It was only towards the end of the meeting, when Lyon announced “our” seven Executive Council candidates, that the fiasco-in-waiting finally came to the surface. Fortunately, McCluskey had left the meeting by this point and was spared witnessing the debacle first-hand.
Lyon introduced “our” five Scottish candidates for various industrial seats on the EC. The sixth Scottish candidate – a member of the ULS, and an official UL candidate – was not asked to address the meeting. In fact, Lyon had not even invited him to the meeting.
Lyon then introduced “our” candidates for the Scottish territorial seats. They were the two PULS candidates whom he had personally selected in November – not the ULS members listed on the official UL slate (whom Lyon had likewise not invited to attend the meeting).
When it was pointed out from the floor that Lyon had failed to mention the ULS members standing for the Scottish territorial seats and officially recognised as UL candidates, Lyon curtly responded:
“You’re in the wrong meeting. They are not United Left candidates. We are supporting our candidates who have been democratically agreed. We are the United Left, we created the United Left, we’re not a different group.”
Lyon clearly thinks that he, rather than the UL, can decree who is a UL candidate. He likewise believes that he, rather than the UL, can decide what constitutes the UL. He even thinks that his own individual personal opinions amount to “democratic agreement”.
And his quip that “you’re in the wrong meeting” might have seemed very clever at the time (if only to Lyon himself). But it is a comment he will hopefully come to regret.
The person who, according to Lyon, was “in the wrong meeting” was an official UL candidate for a territorial seat on the EC. If that UL candidate was “in the wrong meeting”, then that tells you everything you need to know about the nature of Lyon’s meeting.
In fact, if anyone was “in the wrong meeting” – even if he exited it before Lyon’s plea to support non-UL candidates – then it was arguably the United Left’s own candidate in the General Secretary election, i.e. Len McCluskey himself.
The meeting which he used to launch his re-election campaign was one which denied a platform to three Scottish UL candidates, called for a vote for candidates standing against two UL candidates, and refused to call for a vote for a third UL candidate.
Although Lyon made a half-hearted attempt to present the meeting as a UL event, he deliberately withheld information about the meeting from ULS co-ordinators and activists.
And it was a meeting where the disproportionately large number of union full-timers in attendance – including Lyon himself – was at odds with McCluskey’s description of Unite as being primarily about “lay-member radical activism”.
To beat Coyne’s shameless campaign of right-wing anti-migrant populism, McCluskey needs to promote “lay-member radical activism”. But, thanks to Mark Lyon, he could not have chosen a worse event to launch his campaign than last Saturday’s meeting.
Momentum’s Facebook page carries a bizarre video which comes from the TSSA rail union.
It’s about railway privatisation, but instead of talking about private businesses exploiting passengers and workers, it focusses entirely on the French, German and Dutch public railway companies that have bought up parts of the UK system, and basically rests on an implied “foreigners stealing our railways” message. Really dodgy, and particularly unhelpful at this time of Brexit-inspired nationalism and racism.
On the TSSA website the link to the video is accompanied by the following gems from the union’s recently re-elected General Secretary Manuel Cortes:
“This film makes the case that it is high time the UK takes back public control of our rail operating companies back [sic] from Keolis, Arriva and Abeilio [sic] who are just front companies for the French, the German and the Dutch states.
“Brexit has made Taking Back Control of train operating companies a vital economic necessity. Leaving the EU but leaving our rail operating companies in the control of EU countries to continue reaping the profits, would now be preposterous.
“It’s a no-brainer case and we hope this film will be shared widely and be used to hold the Tories to account in England and Wales – and in Scotland too where under SNP nationalist rule ScotRail has been tuned [sic] into a Dutch rail colony – for their unpatriotic and misguided running down of UK rail.”
Yes, we must hold the Tories to account for being unpatriotic!
Martin Thomas is a prominent member of the Alliance for Workers Liberty; Jon Lansman founded Momentum.
Jon Lansman and Tony Benn in 1981
I’m glad to read your statement to the Guardian that you’re “not walking away from Momentum”. I hope it will help quiet the split talk from some high-profile people around Momentum – Paul Mason, Owen Jones, Laura Murray – since the 3 December national committee meeting.
I hope, even, that it means it may be possible to talk quietly, without media-provided megaphones and howling about sabotage, to discuss what adjustments or compromises can best keep Momentum on the road.
We are for unity. If we find ourselves on the losing side in some future votes about Momentum structure or policy, as we’ve found ourselves on losing sides in the past, we won’t split. We’ll only take up the democratic rights that every minority should have, to try to convince the majority.
As you know, I’ve sought you out for off-the-record conversations about Momentum, to find common ground and to clarify and explore ways of dealing with differences, since before Momentum was launched. I’m glad you agreed to those conversations, and disappointed that more recently you haven’t responded to requests for further talk.
This has to be an open letter; but it is also a letter, an attempt to restart dialogue.
You and I were effectively co-organisers of the Labour Party Democracy Task Force in 2010-11, when Ed Miliband made a promise (effectively, in the end, annulled) of an open review of Labour Party structures. We were also effectively co-organisers of the campaign against the Collins Report in 2013-14.
Further back, we worked together in the Rank and File Mobilising Committee for Labour Democracy in 1980. I was only a backroom activist, while you were the secretary of the committee, but the organiser of the committee, your partner in the day-to-day running of that campaign, was my Workers’ Liberty comrade John Bloxam.
Thus you know from long experience that Owen Jones’s, or Laura Murray’s, squalling about us as “saboteurs” and “sectarians” is nonsense.
We have never agreed on grand political philosophies. I am, or try to be, a Trotskyist, a revolutionary Marxist. As you said in an interview with me in 2014, you are “not from [our] political tradition”; if I understand right, you are a reform-socialist, a “Dererite” in the sense of the gradualist strategy advocated by Vladimir Derer (founder of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy), but, unlike Derer, not a Marxist. Read the rest of this entry »
This statement also appears in the present issued of Solidarity:
After the Momentum national committee on Saturday 3 December voted that Momentum should have a decision-making delegate conference — the big controversial decision! — figures on the fringes of Momentum, and some within it, have launched a social-media and mass-media outcry against Workers’ Liberty and Solidarity.
This outcry should be resisted with an insistence on unity, a focus on positive campaigning, and a refusal to let the mass media or the Labour machine’s notorious Compliance Unit split us.
Although we were only a small part of the 3 December meeting, the whole majority is being denounced as manipulated, controlled, or even bullied by the few Workers’ Liberty people there, and the decision to have a democratic conference as a “Trotskyist takeover”.
Some people are signalling that they want to split Momentum on this issue. Our reply is clear: the majority is much broader than us. It is not controlled by us.
We, and as far as we know all the majority, are totally for unity and against a split. Momentum should unite to fight the Tories and the Labour right wing.
We are not even “hard-liners” on the organisational issues. We, and the majority, do want democracy in Momentum: we believe democracy is necessary for stable unity. But we always have been, and are, open to dialogue and compromise about modalities, details, forms.
We have kept our tone comradely. We have repeatedly sought off-the-record discussions with those who led the minority on 3 December to explore adjustments, common ground, maximisation of consensus.
The ones who are reluctant to compromise, and who run their debates in tones of violent denunciation of those disagree with them, are elements in the minority, and, even more, their media outriders, who are not even active in Momentum.
The writer Paul Mason told the BBC Daily Politics on 8 December that, although he had “never been to a Momentum meeting”, he demanded a purge. “If Jill Mountford [a National Committee member of Momentum]… remains basically an expelled member of the Party and remains in Momentum, I will not remain in Momentum”.
Labour “auto-excluded” 618 members during the Labour leadership contest this summer, and 1038 members are still suspended, according to figures at the last Labour NEC. Thousands more leftwingers (no-one knows exactly how many) were expelled or suspended during the 2015 leadership contest. Many of those expelled are long-standing Labour Party members, whom no-one talked of expelling during the Blair, Brown, or Miliband years.
Until now the left has agreed that we do not trust the Compliance Unit’s decisions on who should or shouldn’t be allowed in the Labour Party. Momentum has voted to oppose the purge. Other left groups like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy have a long-standing policy of including unjustly expelled left-wingers.
The Compliance Unit wants to split the left. We should not allow them to do that.
Remember: the Compliance Unit could well expel Paul Mason — he is an ex-member of a Trotskyist group, and surely has said unkind things about Labour right-wingers on social media.
Owen Jones, another figure on the fringe of Momentum, another one who could well be expelled by the Compliance Unit if they choose, has used the Guardian to claim that the issue in Momentum is “a takeover bid by Trotskyist sectarians”.
Mason, Jones, and others should put aside their megaphones. They should come and discuss the best way to build unity and effective campaigning for Momentum.
Voting was quite closely divided on 3 December, but delegates agreed on a decision-making national conference, to be on 18 February, 25 February, or 4 March. 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. The 3 December meeting elected a conference arrangements committee.
We were not in the majority on everything, but we are confident that the 3 December decisions will command a broad consensus in most of Momentum’s local groups.
As Michael Chessum, a Momentum Steering Committee member (and not one of us), has said: “[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.”
More calm, more space for discussion and appreciation of the hard voluntary work of comrades in the national office and in local groups, fewer meeting-cancellations, fewer attempts to pre-empt decisions, would have helped improve the atmosphere on 3 December. Whether it would have stopped the recent Trotskyist-baiting, we don’t know.
In the media storm, our ideas on imperialism, on Israel-Palestine, on Europe have been misrepresented, and the great warehouse of Stalinist slurs against Trotskyists has been called into use.
Yes, we are Trotskyists. We say what we think, and we organise openly for our ideas. We believe Momentum is a tremendous opportunity for the left. We have played a constructive role in it since it started, in local groups, nationally, and in initiatives like Momentum NHS.
20,000 people have joined Momentum as members since it launched. There are 150 local groups.
Those groups must be allowed the means to develop a democracy — a continuously thinking, adjust, rethinking process of debate and decision-making which evolves a collective majority opinion — and that needs a conference, not just decision-making via online plebiscites run by the Momentum full-time staff.
At the 3 December meeting we supported a successful motion from Momentum Youth and Students for a campaign to make Labour stand firm on freedom of movement and to fight against the Tories’ post-Brexit plans. Momentum should be uniting to put such policies into action, not using the mass media to stir a storm against
the 3 December majority.
Some in the 3 December minority oppose a decision-making conference because they think Momentum should not have policy beyond being generically left-wing and pro-Corbyn. There is a case, and we accept it, for moving quite slowly and gently on many policy issues in a new movement like Momentum. But without policies — on issues like freedom of movement, for example — Momentum cannot campaign coherently in local Labour Parties or on the streets (or, as we found this September, at the Labour Party conference).
Otherwise Momentum can only be a support organisation for the current Labour leadership, a database or phone bank for exercises like the leadership elections.
Let’s go forward to build Momentum, build the Labour Party, resist the Compliance Unit’s purges, fight the Tories, and argue for socialist policies.
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.
By Johnny Lewis
From Labour’s defeat in 2015 socialists were confronted with two tasks: organising for Labour to win the next election and – regardless of its outcome – establishing Labour as a social democratic party; in effect transforming the Labour Party. While it is possible to work for a Labour victory without working for Labour to become a social democratic party it is inconceivable that transforming Labour can be achieved outside of the campaign to win the next election. These tasks were equally applicable in the wake of the 2010 defeat, the major changes being that Corbyn has massively increased the possibility of achieving the second of these goals and Labour is much closer to fragmenting under the impact of the populist Right.
It may be this timeline is truncated by a snap election (a disaster) it may be the tempo of the class struggle changes demanding a change in approach but these are maybes and we need to work from where we are rather then speculate on what might be.
Rather than seeing these tasks as a `struggle for socialism’ they are concerned with class power as both an election victory and Labour becoming a stable left wing party are predicated on how far we are able to halt the competition between workers and develop the class as a whole both in its material well-being and organisational strength. This approach stands in contrast to the idea of a faction which sees the Party as a recruitment opportunity or as a vehicle for the politics of identity. In the latter case parties, movements or campaigns are an aggregation of identity based groups and individuals are understood by, and political activity is mediated through ascription.
The class-based approach can only be undertaken by a tendency which holds on tight to the Labour Party, and is concerned with putting down roots in the working class movement and through its activity bring into its orbit existing labour movement activists, radicals who have joined through Corbyn and most importantly the union rank and file. The Party membership provides fertile ground for such a tendency as a majority of long-term constituency members are on the left alongside the Corbynistas
The many thousands who have joined in support of Corbyn fall into two groups 58% (106,521) were never in a political party – of the 42% ‘retreads’ 31% (56,933) are re-joining the party, the other 11% coming from the Greens and the far left. While the dominant ideological trend among the `never beens’ is heavily influenced by identity politics (something many of the retreads have also absorbed), their core views are rooted in various strands of neo-Stalinism: support of Stop the War, failure to understand the importance of bourgeois democracy and the view of Jackie Walker as a ‘victim’.
Some 20,000 of these Party members are now in Momentum and it is Momentum which should be the crucible in which this class tendency is formed. It would do so by combining three interlocking areas of activity:
- Winning over other Labour Party members and pursuing the internal struggle to democratise the party.
- Taking part in Labour’s policy debate not by putting forward a programme rather taking proposals for discussion and debate. The model here is the Fabians and the most pressing proposals need to focus on an economic alternative.
- Campaigning activity: the primary aim of such activity would be to decouple the white working class vote from the populist right, to develop class consciousness to a point where workers are ready to vote Labour. Such campaigning activity should be undertaken jointly with the unions and dictated by Labour and the unions rather than Momentum or non-Labour party campaigns or organisations.
It is these practical and common tasks that should bind Momentum together as a class tendency while its activity would transform the Party, reconfigure relations between Party and unions and ‘reset’ Labour’s relations to the working class.
Momentum is very far from becoming that tendency. They show little interest in such prosaic matters, rather they are focused on the three way factional dispute between the organised left, the neo- Stalinists (animated around Walker’s removal) and the leadership. By all accounts this is a vituperative fight infused by identity politics and has effectively paralysed the organisation: it would be astonishing if it were to survive another six months in its present form.
Standing behind the immediate issues which generated this faction fight is the broader question of Momentum’s relationship to the Labour Party. Although a majority view themselves as Labour Party supporters, the organised left and the retreads have introduced the ‘New Party’ question: ie the formation of a new party or social movement (I use the shorthand NP to cover both) to supersede Labour. It is this conflict between transforming Labour and the NP which underpins the faction fight.
The NP proposition came to prominence during the heyday of anti-austerity campaigning and should have died with the 2015 election results. At first glance its representation inside Momentum seems absurd but many of the Corbynistas are but a sub-set of anti-austerity movement transposed into the Labour Party, and for many of them NP ideas are deeply embedded in their political makeup. This ambivalence towards Labour is also reflected in Momentum’s structure with its adherence to social movements and the frankly bizarre notion that it should be open to non-party members.
There are two types of NP advocates – those who have a casual attitude to the LP, viewing it as a convenient staging post to some undefined alternative and those who argue Momentum should take programmatic positions on a range of issues. Whatever type of alternative they may wish to peruse the crux of the matter is they view Momentum as the embryo of the NP and so its focus is always something other than the Labour Party. NP ideas are wrong-headed for a number of reasons – most obviously the lack of a mass movement to which they can engage.
It was the depth of the recession that determined one of two types of working class response to the economic crisis. Where the crisis was severe in Europe, political and state institutions come under pressure from below. Witness Spain where some 8 million participated in the 15-M Movement or Ireland where around 17% of the population demonstrated – equivalent demonstrations in the UK would have mobilised 4 million on the streets. In these cases, as with Greece, mass movements fragmented existing left parties and a process begun of establishing new political formations which have yet to mature into political parties. A second permutation which was seen in the UK was one where the crisis was limited. In this instance while the anti-austerity movement drew many into political activity it never reached the scale where it constituted a mass, insurgent, or social movement. Without such a mass base there was no pressure from below to challenge Labour to the point where it would fragment. Instead political institutions have remained largely intact with right wing populism and left wing radicalism flowing into their respective parties which moved them away from the centre ground to the political poles. This is not to argue these political institutions are not undergoing a process of degeneration rather the tempo and character is very different from counties where the recession was deepest.
As important as the scale of the movement is its social composition: where mass movements emerged there was a definable working class element, but this was not the case in the UK. The social profile of the Corbynistas, (a proxy for the anti-austerity movement) shows them to be similar to the pre- Corbyn Labour Party membership except a tad more middle class, socially liberal, politically radical and older.
Whatever variant of the NP project some Momentum members might hold, without a mass movement attempts to will the NP into existence are futile. Such NP supporters are, `trapped’ within the confines of the Labour Party’s existing structures and routines, and it is this reality Momentum’s NP supporters refuse to acknowledge.
Non-acceptance of this reality is expressed through counterposing a NP belief to the actual struggle taking place within the Labour Party. In practice this ‘non acceptance’ can take a number of forms, for example refusing to support a Labour Party campaign because its demands are not radical enough or believing one should run a Momentum campaign separate from the Party because `your’ demands are more radical, or attempting to get Momentum to adopt ‘your’ programme. In this manner the NP advocates separate themselves off from the struggle in the Party: this represents another form of sect building, well described by Hal Draper. The practical consequences are to separate themselves off from Momentum members who disagree with their programme and stymie Momentum’s activity within the Party.
While sect building is as old as the left, what is an altogether new twist (at least outside of a Stalinist state) is how the left has substituted Corbyn for the mass anti-austerity movement and in so doing has raised him up as the personification of that movement. His deification obscures any understanding that it is the Labour Party which oxygenates both Him and the Corbynistas. Without the Labour Party you could not have Corbyn, and outside of the Party he would rapidly wither on the vine while the Corbynistas would find themselves thrown back onto another imagined mass movement, the People Assembly. However to grasp this point would mean facing the fact the Party is not the repository of a mass movement which Momentum can somehow lead to a life independent of the Party.
It may be Momentum can pull back from the brink, although I doubt it has either the collective will or for that matter the interest. While the consequence of a split will lead to rancor and recrimination among the combatants it will also provide an unpalatable lesson for NP proponents. A cold wind will blow around the would be masters of the universe as they find there is no mass movement for them to lead rather like Corbyn they draw sustenance from the Labour Party and that their relationship is first and foremost with the Party not the Corbynistas.
A split however will do so much more. One has to ask what lesson those outside the faction fight will draw when they see on the one hand the populists at the gates and on the other hand Momentum’s response – a faction fight. While the factional participants will rationalise ‘the struggle’ the lessons most will draw is the inability of the left to ‘make’ anything of value. However the real tragedy is that the potential for transforming Labour will at best be set back indefinitely, but all too likely lost altogether. Such an outcome will play no small part in letting the populist Right breach Labour’s walls.
Bland, but on the whole, not bad:
Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, speech to National Policy Forum 19 November 2016:
Thank you for that introduction.
We meet at the most important moment in politics for a generation. Political upheaval is becoming the norm. The old certainties are dramatically falling away and we are coming to expect the unexpected. People know there can be no more business as usual. But the question is what will replace it.
Since the financial crash of 2008 it has been clear that the economic and political system is unable to meet people’s needs and deliver the prosperity and security it promised – not just here in Britain, but across much of the world.
So let us be very clear: It was not levels of public spending, it was the crisis of a deregulated financial system that crashed the economy across the western world and delivered falling living standards and led to swingeing cuts to public services.
Lehman Brothers did not collapse because we kept too many libraries open, had employed too many teaching assistants, or failed to cut disabled people’s benefits.
Not since the late 1970s have we seen such a dramatic collapse in confidence in the political and economic order.
People are feeling insecure and the ‘me-too’ managerial politics of the pre-crash era quite obviously no longer has the answers.
Voting for the status quo is not attractive to people, because they know the status quo is failing them.
Many feel their prospects – and those of their children – are getting worse.
We saw that reflected in this summer’s referendum vote.
Telling people that their continued prosperity depends on remaining in simply didn’t resonate widely enough when so many people didn’t feel they were sharing in that prosperity in the first place.
Did the nearly one million people on zero hours contracts, or the six million paid less than the living wage, feel they needed to vote in to be better off?
Or did they just simply not trust politicians and business people who have let them down?
The young people told they will have fewer opportunities in life than their parents’ generation; people who see their NHS being run down; or their library close or their social care package being taken away.
For a time our party became too complacent about runaway levels of inequality, about an economic system that delivered handsomely for the rich but ripped up security for millions of people at work – and for many has ditched the security of a home to call your own. Read the rest of this entry »
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