We shouldn’t think about Momentum as one entity

by David Ward

As you might imagine of an Uncut writer, my involvement with Momentum so far hasn’t been extensive. So when I heard they were planning to have their own conference alongside Labour’s in Liverpool I thought this would be a great chance to see what it was all about.

My first try wasn’t a success. Turning the corner onto Great George St, I walked towards what looked like a mass of people milling around outside the venue, ticket in hand.

Then I realised – this wasn’t a crowd, it was a queue. There was a line right round the building and what seemed to be a one in one out system.

Feeling the draw of free reception wine back at party conference, I began to get that uncomfortable middle aged feeling when all the young people at work start talking about bands you’ve never heard of.

Still, undaunted I returned next day for an event titled, “What is Momentum For?” Being a paid up member of the Blairite establishment I suppose I expected a panel discussion with some leading lights of the organisation.

Instead I walked into a room where a cross section of ages seemed to drinking cups of tea around tables, and t-shirts on sale at the sides.

Clearly I’d come to the wrong place, this was the Momentum café or something. No. The whole thing was being run as a seminar. We were around tables arguing about the central questions facing the organisation.

‘What is a social movement?’ ‘How can Momentum help Labour be a social movement?’ ‘What structure should it have?’ ‘How should we engage with the media?’ ‘What campaigns should we run?’

In a touchingly unvarnished way we wrote our contributions down with marker pens  on blank A3 sheets to be collected up at the end. Still, having come from the subdued atmosphere of the official conference you couldn’t deny the room was buzzing with excitement.

I’m not sure everyone quite knew what the excitement was about, but you could feel it nonetheless.

It quickly became clear to me it’s wrong to think of there being one Momentum. There’s at least two, maybe four. And some of them could end up being quite useful for the party.

Some people just wanted acceptance and an outlet for radical views they feel haven’t been represented properly before. Or a forum to discuss ideas outside some formal GC meeting, “moving beyond being election monkeys”.

Then there are the single issue obsessives. One earnest young man next to me answered almost every question with a call for introducing a Cardinal Voting system. “What’s that?” someone asked. He did explain but everyone looked a little confused.

Others wanted to become a movement rooted in communities which could organise and take action to solve local issues, like housing problems.

There was little agreement on how Momentum should even be organised. Some people wanted elections and party posts. Others didn’t want to create separate power bases to the Labour party. As one lady said at my table “It seems like there’s two Momentums at the moment. Labour Momentum and this People’s Momentum.” If they took the latter route she want didn’t any part of that.

“We should remove the party whip from MPs!” thundered one man to a round of applause. “Whoever is standing as Labour candidate in any election, whatever their views, we have to get behind them to win elections and win people’s trust” cried another to (more limited) approval.

Many on the moderate wing of the party view Momentum supporters with a great deal of suspicion. But I’m not sure that’s not a useful way forward. Lots of people there felt slandered and patronised by members of their own party. If we carry on like that there’s a danger the route they take could be angry and oppositional.

And let’s face it, who hasn’t become tired of party meetings with abstract motions at some point. Who hasn’t thought we need an injection of enthusiasm and the confidence to think anew about how Britain solves its problems, from Brexit to housing.

As I got up to leave I thought if Labour can help shape this energy into something that helps us develop new ideas, and make a difference to communities around the country, this could be really powerful.

Then I got a tap on the shoulder, “About Cardinal Voting – I’ve drawn you a diagram”. “It looks complicated” said the lady next to me. “Yes, you might struggle with that” I replied. In a way, that summed up the afternoon.

David Ward is a Labour campaigner in south London

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7 Responses to “We shouldn’t think about Momentum as one entity”

  1. Mark Livingston says:

    Great to see Labour return to its roots. I hope the New Labour people stay with the party. Good luck Momentum!

  2. Peter Kenny says:

    Imagine – just people who want the world to be better! Good on you, Dave Ward.

    See my comment on Atul’s recent piece – ‘moderates’ have no useful ideas about the left at the moment because they have been trapped in a political bubble bounded by what is ‘reasonable’ – the very foundation of our party was opposed as being ‘unreasonable’ by some because the Liberals would do the job!

    What is reasonable is of course decided by those with power already and, as we’ve seen, they’ll turn on a sixpence. So there was acres of newsprint about Labour needing to sign up to the Tories deficit reduction plans only for them to be ditched without a whimper by the Tories themselves.

    The truly toxic thing about many ‘moderates’ is their willingness to damage the party – opposition can be ‘moderate’, you know, and their attachment to manoeuvres – the whole coup process – rather than democracy.

  3. David Walker says:

    I once visited an elderly relative in a hospital ward for the mentally ill (once was quite enough for me). What you describe sounds somewhat similar to what I saw.

    I think you may have misunderstood the earnest young man, who was probably trying to tell everyone that he was an ACTUAL cardinal.

    Meanwhile, Tom who took too much LSD as a teenager in 1971 was screaming about the infinite number of Momentums contained in the imaginary speck off dust that he held out in front of him.

    Abigail was smashing her already bleeding head, repeatedly, against the sink and Jessica was using her tongue to mop the floor.

    In the corner of the room, the unwatched TV set was showing an episode of Ever Decreasing Circles.

  4. Mike Stallard says:

    Blimey! At last some common sense.

    Let us face it, most Labour supporters would not recognise a genuine working class person if they saw one. (I meet a lot – Poles, Venezuelans, Filipinos, Keralans, and one Moroccan! None of them, by the way, are unionised as far as I know).

    Momentum is an extension – a reunion if you like – of the lucky few who went to Uni. It is the Refec all over again. Or the pub. Austerity means cutting back the couple of hours a week in the Library or the termination of a contract as a Support Worker. It means being let go by the Police as a person who assisted in the computer room. Jeremy is the Lecturer drawing huge crowds with different and exciting new ideas. Zero hours contracts means supply teaching or Agency nursing.

    These people – like all people – are important qua people. But in no way do they represent the country in its existential crisis of Brexit, debt and immigration menacing the Welfare State.

  5. DJ says:

    In another article on here it talks about the “hard left” being marginalised however one should be able to recognise that it’s not just the hard left but the left and quite often the centre of the party too. There are numerous who have felt marginalised by a group with MP’s and others still fawning over Tony Blair who have managed to strangle the idea that labour is a broad church – it’s no surprise that a group who aims to grant ordinary members a say is, well, a little chaotic but also popular.

    It’s also no surprise that the spirit of momentum can go wrong and lead to individuals stepping way over the line. It’s by no means the majority or the aim of the group and those MP’s wishing to protect their status and ideas by suggesting it is have clearly learnt a lot from the days where the Sun was backing labour.

    It’s a real shame that Owen Smith was critical of Momentum without having ever met them or that labour donors can compare them to the most beastly of movements while likewise knowing nothing about the group. It’s time for the right, centre and left of the party to work together and develop ideas that demonstrate this is a broad church, this article is a good start.

  6. Tony says:

    It is one entity.

    I think you mean that it is not a monolith.

  7. DJ says:

    It should be no surprise that Momentum is, well, a little chaotic and popular as it gives ordinary members a chance to get involved in party politics and feel close to their labour party. It’s shocking that I know of no members on the right of the party who have been seen at their event but have in the past few months been perfectly happy to be overly critical up what is nearly always good natured. There have been so many marginalised by one side of the party that labour now needs a broad church of left, centre and right working together to have any chance of victory in 2020.

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