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