Seven ways Momentum can help Labour become resistant to sabotage

The leaked Labour report tells us a lot about how the party needs to change. Momentum can lead the way, argues Johnbosco Nwogbo

April 16, 2020 · 9 min read
The Labour manifesto launch in 2019 The Labour Party manifesto launch in 2019

A leaked internal Labour Party report shows that senior staff, in concert with some Labour politicians, refused to cooperate with the elected leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and actively worked towards his downfall and Labour’s electoral failure. The report details a litany of racist, sexist and ableist abuse of left-wing staff, MPs and activists. It also reveals a pattern of mismanagement in the complaints process, as well as the hyperpartisan allocation of the party’s resources.

Disappointing as this is, it is not as surprising as it might first seem. On the Labour left, what we need is an organised and effective political structure that is ready and able to take on the retrograde, right-wing agenda exposed in the report, and that exemplifies the values we want to see in the Labour Party as a whole.

Over the last four years, significant strides have been made towards this goal, partly spurred by Momentum, but much remains to be done. Here are seven suggestions drawn from Forward Momentum’s policy proposals on how Momentum can help change the political culture and organisation of the Labour Party for the better:

  • Democratise the Labour Party: it is no secret that while Momentum has embodied the rhetoric of Labour Party democracy over the last four years, we have fallen short at important moments. We should now take the task of democratising our Party seriously, in both word and practice. Democratising the Labour Party means Open Selection of all candidates, from MP to dog-catcher. It also means that our Party’s policy development process must have grassroots members in their CLPs at its core. The policy motions members pass in our CLP General Committee meetings must be a source of our Party’s manifesto promises. So too must be the policy ideas/needs that arise from actual struggles – for example the struggles of workers for the gig economy like Deliveroo and Uber workers organising with the IWGB.  Democracy also calls for a Conference that is truly supreme and that is free of the machinations that are customary there, so that its outcomes reflect the authentic will of members and rank-and-file trade unionists. A party that has an ingrained culture of transparency, accountability to its membership, and that is democratic to its core, is a party that is less likely to have factional staff or politicians repeatedly undermining democratic mandates.

  • Put members at the heart of Momentum: the changes we want to make to the Labour Party all have as their aim the building of a democratic organisation, responsive to its members who are united in their socialist ambition. Momentum must operate on the same principle. It has been an open-secret in our organisation over the last four years that members have often been consulted only as a means to validate decisions already taken at the top. Regardless of what one thought of their merits, Momentum’s NCG’s decision to endorse Rebecca Long-Bailey and Angela Rayner for leader and deputy leader, and then asking members to simply endorse their decision, is a recent case in point. Such stifling of open democracy needs to change if we are to have the standing to demand the democratisation of the Labour party. Democratising Momentum entails more all-member votes on big issues, an annual national strategy conference so that members can set the organisation’s direction for the next year, and increased transparency on Momentum’s income and budget. Democracy in Momentum also entails providing local groups with the skills and resources to run good meetings that accommodate everyone – the disabled, young parents, introverts, etc – not just a few loudmouth grandstanders.
  • Democratise the process of selecting slates for internal Labour Party elections: it is important that we put in place a democratic system for selecting candidates for left slates in internal Labour Party elections. Winning these elections is crucial to getting left leaders in positions of power inside the Party, where they can fight for socialism, champion the views of the membership and hold the leadership and party machine to account. To find the best candidates and to ensure a unified left slate with popular legitimacy that can win, we should put an end to divisive backroom deals and instead implement an open process in which Momentum candidates are selected by all-member votes, allowing for transparent discussions with other left-wing organisations.
  • Organise for Labour Party Conference: as we’ve seen in the last few years, one of the best ways for the membership to assert influence and hold the leadership and party machine to account is through Labour Party Conference. A strong Conference is a strong counter-weight to those who seek to undemocratically steer the party in a direction the membership disagrees with. For the last four years, Momentum has had a well run Conference operation whose aim has been to ensure specific issues are debated and to secure the votes to get them passed. This should continue, but its relevance depends on Conference remaining the supreme decision-making body in the Labour Party. What this means is that Momentum must also, through the left members of the NEC, fight to elevate the status of Conference within the party. Momentum should also give members a proper say on what Momentum’s Conference priorities should be through an open all-member vote.

We must, on the left, hold ourselves to higher standards

  • Lead on political education: Even if the inquiry that has been commissioned to look into the leaked report yields substantive changes, the task of transforming our Party and our society will require much more than congenial Labour Party staff. And we believe that it is Momentum’s role to ensure that every member is prepared for that task, through political education. Momentum’s brand new ‘Lunchtime Sessions’, where members are taught important organising skills via Zoom, is a significant step in the desired direction. Our biggest asset is a vibrant and politically confident movement, firm in socialist and anti-racist convictions and able to engage in debates with those that oppose us, inside but especially outside the Labour Party. Momentum must ramp up political education at all levels, and across as many areas of organising as possible. With its immense resources, reach and links to the labour movement, Momentum is ideally placed to lead on this, working with organisations such as The World Transformed and trade unions.
  • Find our allies, and work with them: beyond working to change the Labour Party from the inside, it is crucial that Momentum works more closely with social movements and trade unions, especially at the grassroots. Some local Momentum groups across the country, such as in Brighton, already do this. They should be provided with the resources to deepen those relationships. These relationships could help transform the Labour Party by creating power at the base that acts as a counterweight to those sections of the party that are disconnected from struggle. Momentum should also use these relationships to support the fight for economic, social, environmental and racial justice in the here and now, while Labour is out of power at a national level. Last year’s Bankrupt Climate Change campaign was a good start and, in Brighton, we worked with Extinction Rebellion to make it creative and impactful. Momentum needs to double down and put those kinds of efforts front and centre.
  • Create a healthy and vibrant political culture in which disagreement is tolerated: the leaked report shows us that right-wing Labour Party staff bullied and undermined those they disagreed with. We must, on the left, hold ourselves to higher standards. Over the next few months it is vital that we come together to discuss and debate the future of our movement and of Momentum. This debate provides us an opportunity to develop a healthy political culture in which contestation and disagreement is tolerated and differences are handled in a way that recognises our shared socialist aims and makes us stronger. We’re better than them, let’s show it.

None of the organisations listed in this article are formally affiliated with or formally support Forward Momentum, which is an independent, time-limited campaign to change Momentum

Johnbosco Nwogbo is a member of Worthing & Shoreham CLP and Worthing and Adur Momentum

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