by David Talbot
We are told that “something amazing happened” over the summer of 2015 in British politics. That the election of Jeremy Corbyn had “blown politics wide open”. As if it needed further reinforcement, the American actor Shia LaBeouf was said to exclaim “British politics just got very exciting”. It is of course billed as the new politics, but is very much the old machine-style politics just with a Twitter handle.
Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery after all, and after years of railing against Progress – a party within a party, we were so vehemently told – the left have their new vehicle: Momentum. Its raison d’etre was codified on the hallowed pages of Left Futures, now the Corbynistas headquarters, where the veteran Bennite Jon Lansman rather gave the game away,
And it will also campaign inside the Labour Party to change it into the campaigning organisation we need, rooted in communities and workplaces, a truly democratic party with polices to match the needs of the many not the interests of the few.
This is a positive outward-looking agenda and that is as it should be but there is a defensive agenda too. The fact that those who were threatening a coup until days before Jeremy’s victory stopped doing so when they saw the size of his majority does not mean that they have all changed their minds.
So not only is it an internal pressure group actively campaigning to change the Labour party from within, but it is Jeremy Corbyn’s praetorian guard. It is also somewhat telling that even the most devoted of his followers have already factored in his failure next May and likely leadership challenge. Momentum is clearly designed as a vehicle solely for the current Labour leadership, not for the party as a whole. Much of its database will be formed by anyone who had a spare £3 over the summer; a reform so wisely introduced by Ed Miliband, and as rightly noted during the leadership campaign, many of them have little or no affiliation with the Labour party. Were Progress to have a platform so brazen the left would go apoplectic.
Corbyn’s leadership clearly shouldn’t last the full five years until the next general election, every day he is in office the Labour party gets further away from power. He isn’t interested in the grubbiness of compromise over purity, and securing votes seem a long way down his list of priorities. His union allies declare losing the election was worth it, whilst his parliamentary champion – Clive Lewis – is applauded to the rafters when he tells conference even if the party loses the next election, it will have changed for the better. Corbyn might just survive given the fanatical nature of his support, and the disarray amongst Labour moderates.
The Labour party has traditionally been a movement to secure power on behalf of ordinary working people. Nothing puts it further away from that objective than the current leadership. Given that Labour moderates were roundly defeated over the summer, we cannot crow. Corbyn’s mandate, whatever the electorate, is significant. But his hold over the parliamentary party is weak.
The elections across London, Scotland and English councils next May will be the first test of Corbyn’s appeal beyond his hard-left bubble. If Labour slips to even worse than the thirty per cent it achieved this May, then the parliamentary party – who so erroneously put him on the ballot paper in the first place – need to decide whether Momentum’s purity is enough, or that the power to make a difference to peoples’ lives does matter after all.
David Talbot is a political consultant