Disparaged and smeared for almost two years, Momentum came out fighting during the general election campaign, spurred on by a sense of idealism which ended up bringing us close to sweeping Labour into government on the most transformative manifesto for a generation.
We’ve already achieved a huge amount, from playing an instrumental role in turning 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 obviously clear. Some on the Labour right hoped we would fold or be absorbed into the ossified structures of the Labour Party itself, but instead we are opting to gear up for the next fundamental steps.
First, it is clear that the Conservatives will seek to trigger another general election and run on a less laughable platform than the farce we’ve just seen. Though they 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 flagship policies which are categorically unpopular and 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 already accepted that there will be fewer open goals when there is another snap election. Last week we launched our general election campaign and we already have our sights set on the constituencies of Tory ministers Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and Iain Duncan Smith. Momentum is aiming to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for any upcoming election and we’ve already begun crowdfunding. Local Momentum groups in safe seats are being encouraged to twin with groups in nearby marginals to expand the size of our grassroots election campaigns in previously unwinnable seats.
The success of Labour in Canterbury also 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. Nicky Morgan’s seat in Loughborough, for example, could go our way.
There are of course still key questions which 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. We have over 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 ideas would also help to deal with concerns that there are still a wealth of pro-Corbyn Labour Party members who have often not engaged with Momentum and frequently have no involvement at the constituency party level either.
Last summer there was discussion 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 at Momentum, and during the general election we had 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 massive potential to make this into a reality: we now have 27,000 members, many of whom only have limited experience so far of canvassing and of other forms of grassroots activism. An activism or organising academy could harness this potential and direct it both at the election of Labour MPs and into wider campaigns and the trade union movement.
Momentum already has both the firefighters’ Fire Brigades Union and rail workers’ Transport Salaried Staff Association as affiliated trade unions, but our relationship with the trade union movement still has far 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 is time for us to use our 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, given that the National Union of Teachers’ educations cuts campaigning during the general election showed trade unions can still be a potent electoral force.
A Momentum-trade union axis could be a serious force to be reckoned with, but 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.
Finally, we must also ask ourselves how we would seek to change the Labour Party and how we can ensure the Labour Party 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 per cent, but there more be more to party reform than inclusive leadership contests.
The Labour Party’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 like me who joined after Ed Miliband’s resignation.
We argued that there was no binary choice between electability and a Democratic Socialist politics, the result was an unprecedented surge in the left’s popularity. We 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. If we want a more democratic Britain then it is only logical that people might expect a more democratic Labour Party.
This is a mandate to reform the Labour Party and make the new politics a reality inside Labour. We should be looking at reforming the National Executive Committee so it more adequately represents party members and trade unionists. It is also necessary to debate whether or not Labour’s membership should have a direct say in who takes on the role of general secretary, and how we can 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 for us to walk.
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