Young Labour is just the start. Momentum is coming for Labour’s soul

by Rob Marchant

Last week, in a set of motions to conference, Labour railed against British “imperialism”, decided to come out of NATO, nationalise the City and advocated that Israel can happily be abolished.

Actually, no. That was Young Labour. Bless them: there were probably tens or hundreds of sensible motions there which got no coverage (and you could almost forgive the howling historical gaffes in the text of these: Britain was in the Vietnam War? Really?)

But, as often in politics, the outliers tell a story: it was a useful indicator of what is likely to happen within Labour itself over the next few years, if there is no successful challenge to the current leadership.

The logic is not complex: the direction of travel of conference motions is clearly moving ever further towards the nutty. And naturally, what is commonplace in Young Labour today is going to be commonplace in Labour itself tomorrow.

It is typical in Labour circles – as in many unions – to argue that no-one pays any attention to such motions, it’s all a storm in a teacup, and so on. In the case of unions, that is almost certainly the case – union conferences rarely get much press coverage nowadays, and there have always been nutty motions.

The difference is that, in the case of the Labour Party, people do pay attention. In fact, the party spent years painstakingly recovering its credibility after its disastrous early 1980s conferences descended into farce, through precisely that kind of behaviour. It was only in 1985 when Kinnock raged brilliantly against Militant in his “scuttling around in taxis” speech, that there came a turning point in the party’s long, hard road back to credibility and, ultimately, to government.

No, party conference motions are just one symptom of the dynamic currently at play within Labour.

In government, No. 10 and the government ministries rule, in terms of how Labour’s priorities are formed.

In opposition, the party-side functions that remain rule: mainly the Leader’s Office and the NEC (whose decisions are driven mostly by the Leader’s Office and the big unions).

And, more than ever before, with a leader who sees takeover of the party by his acolytes as the overriding objective rather than actually getting into government, the party-side piece of that equation will dominate.

In other words, between now and the general election, what Labour stands for – its policy platform – is virtually irrelevant, in terms of what will drive political outcomes. It is the extent to which dull party processes and structures are commandeered by Momentum and their friends on the far left (unless, of course, Corbyn can come up with something so shamelessly populist and the state of the Tories so woeful that he can actually win an election. In which case, all bets are off).

The parliamentary Lobby, to the extent that they grasp this obscure detail of motion and committee, will largely pass over it on the grounds that it is not remotely newsworthy. But in four years’ time, you will see a largely hidden project come to fruition, if Corbyn and Lansman get their way.

It is not that it is a secret project – Momentum’s objective of taking over the party, the same as Militant before it, is blindingly obvious – it is just that the detail of the plan is so bone-crushingly dull to onlookers that it will seem that way. It will be a surprise when Labour suddenly wakes up in 2020 to find itself a slightly more popular version of the Respect party.

You are painting Momentum as a bogeyman, they will say. But it is not creating a bogeyman when there is a historical precedent of almost exactly the same thing being attempted thirty years ago.

The tragedy is that Young Labour activists are, naturally, too young to remember how Militant almost destroyed the party. And Militant was much less successful: it never came close to winning the leadership (although its hero, Tony Benn, polled respectably as the losing candidate for deputy). But it was the same deal. Dammit, it’s even got a bunch of the same people.

In 2017, the party organisation is the once again the battleground, and Labour has a three-way choice.

Fight. Split. Or sit open-mouthed as its institutions are taken over, one by one.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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17 Responses to “Young Labour is just the start. Momentum is coming for Labour’s soul”

  1. Dave Roberts says:

    Who was the guy from this group who was found living in Brighton and being a councillor in Barking and Dagenham while claiming benefits there? His name escapes me for the moment.

  2. John Wall says:

    I recall what happened 30-35 years ago. The same nonesense about NATO was being peddled then and there’s a good analysis here I expect that Corbychev and MaoDonnell believe every word.

  3. paul barker says:

    This is all Years too late, Momentum already has Labours soul. The striking thing about Militant was how unpopular they were with everybody except their own supporters, even other Trots didnt like them. Momentum are doing much better at being generally liked & recruiting “Fellow Travellers”. And of course, Corbyn is The Leader & very popular.
    Labour “Centrists” can either carry on whining, while working to get Corbyn elected, or they can leave.

  4. Gordon says:

    There will be no fight back for two simple reasons.

    Since the general election, the careerists believe that they are more likely to gain jobs, in opposition and later in government, if they ride the Corbyn tiger rather than confront it. The centrists are so preoccupied by trying to snipe at, shit on and sabotage Brexit that they have no emotional energy left for trying to save Labour.

    There are many thousands of Party activists who, had you told them a few years ago that they’d be prepared to accept a leadership controlled by Marxist hardliners like Corbyn, McDonnell, Milne, Lansman and Murray, would have laughed in your face. Not any more.

    The capitulation is a moral stain on the Labour Party from which it might never recover. Imagine if the Tory Party had been taken over by Enoch Powell, Ian Paisley, Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin. What would we say to Tory moderates who stayed in and – worse – didn’t fight back?

  5. buttley says:

    according to the Kübler-Ross model, the five stages of grief are,

    denial, anger, bargaining, depression, & acceptance.

    not sure if Rob is past stage one yet,

    but i’m sure if we all support him, over the next few weeks,

    he can, make it to stage two.

    (Fight Option) the only choice the right of the party have now,

    is to drum up half a million plus, supporters of the “third way” style of politics,

    good luck with that one.

    (Split Option) the big ego’s might jump, but if that is the case,

    i would think they are more likely to wait until Corbyn is PM, to try that one,

    if they were to split before, it is electoral oblivion,

    only after a victory, can they hope to draw some lime light, & make mischief.

    this is why the issue should be forced, well before.

    (Open Mouthed) most will read the writing on the wall, & fall on their swords,

    if you can’t command the support of your CLP, your time is up.

    i am looking forward to a piece from Rob on the centenary of the Balfour declaration.

  6. John P Reif says:

    How do you exactly,fight Rob, half of those currently gaining power in labour have for members who were convinced We won the election, it just sounds like bitterness, that the club of local CLps giving position to those who bought in to the middle ground was rhe way to get power nationally, noe aren’t getting those positions

    I hope labour does well, but your reference to Kinnock in the 80’s was the turning point after Tony Benn had convinced the party we lost the 1983 election as it asnt left wing enough, and those who’d followed Benn had lost their council seats or grudgingly admitted labour was out of touch with the public

    Now excluding all the, the libdems would prefer a coalition with the Tories, so the majority of the country wouldn’t want a left wing government if we had PR,

    or the view the young don’t remember the 70’s so if the old peoolebdiedvand they young voted Labour,and corbyn bankrupted the country, the public would soon vote labour, out,and wouldn’t vote labour for fifty years

    The on,y way that non Corbynistas won’t control the party, is hey get diulusioned after labour stop winning council seats in the traditional blue collar working class non suburban areas,outside the big cities

    Think it’s a bit unfair to compare militant to momentum, I’m no Ken livingstone fan, but livingstone said militant had nothing to do with socialism, momentum, in the IR support of the EU, ignore Corbyn is the biggest EU skeptic going, seems they’re run by a large amount of middle class people, who find it credible, that labour could win elections by appealing to guardian readers (without sounding patronizing)

    John Mcdonnell has said after next years council election,plus the new organizers of conference gat momentum can tie over, most cinstutiuencies , but the low turnout t next years council elections, in London could see, Rislip, Bromley or croydin return Tory councillor as Ukip collapses

    the greens win, Tower Hamlets and Hackney , will their be fights at conference, maybe there’s plenty of fringe meetings, recorded, and the new rules on reporting anti Semitism,and sexism, then post Brexit, will there be another election
    The deselections, of sitting candidates, where, momentum takes over, have to remember one thing, some of the working class areas, from Denis Skinner, to Jon Cruddas to Gloria de piers, saw their majorities went doen, others like Peter Kyle, doubled labours vote,and that wasn’t due to Corbyn,

    Many backbenchers are doing good wok in select commmittees, why would they be deselected

  7. Anon says:

    Rob, Labour’s soul is no longer there to be stolen.

    I’ve no time for the Jeremites, but Blair and co have already removed Labour’s soul.

    Things have moved on and those heady days of Tone, Peter, and Alistaire have gone – and there’s no way that the people of this country will have their like back.

    It’s SDP Mk2 time.

  8. steve says:

    “too young to remember”

    Rob must be one of these.

    Tony Benn was never Militant’s “hero”. Militant was a separate political party with its own structure and leadership (Ted Grant and Peter Taaffe). It was/is (as today’s Socialist Party) a Trotskyist revolutionary party. Tony Benn was never a Trotskyist nor was he a revolutionary. Militant considered Benn to be a politically naive romantic – probably Rob, a view you share.

    Had you been around at that time you would know that Momentum is very different to Militant.

    Indeed, with its undemocratic, top-down structure and an insistence on an infallible leader and ideology, I have always believed Progress bears a closer resemblance to Militant than any other organisation associated with the Labour Party.

  9. Leon says:

    If it’s that bad Rob , why don’t you bugger off and form your own centrist party. Corbyn has saved this party from the abyss NL were taking it. If you can’t enthuse enough members to your political leanings then that’s tough. Your vindictive bile running through all your articles is so tiresome , maybe you should team up with Atul and start your own polling organisation.

  10. Richard MacKinnon says:

    “Last week, in a set of motions to conference, Labour railed against British “imperialism”, decided to come out of NATO, nationalise the City and advocated that Israel can happily be abolished”.
    That statement is wrong. It is beoyond exageration. It is deliberately misleading. That means it is duplicitous. That means the author is ‘disposed to cheat or defraud or deceive’.
    That tells me Rob Marchant is losing the argument.

  11. Anne says:

    I do remember militant and they were, as the name suggests, militant but I am not sure that Momentum is the same. As I understand it this group was set up to support JC – now as his position seems secure then what is the purpose of Momentum? Now if their purpose is to enable more Labour MPs to be elected then this is OK – to achieve this then they have to look at marginal seats which are obviously leaning towards the Tory persuasion – a good Labour candidate is required – one who can appeal to that locality. Deselection of popular MPs is not the way forward.
    My message to members of momentum – don’t blow it now. We have the worst Conservative government in office in modern times – we need to be challenging them.
    Having just read Keir Starmer’s piece in The Times – he is without doubt the best Brexit negotiator – quite frankly could save our country from economic disaster- we need to be prepared for government- divided parties do not win elections.

  12. John P Reid says:

    Steve progress don’t try to pass motions at conference, and even tedbridge diundil,full of progress people, dint run the council the way militant ran Liverpool

    Dave Roberts, don’t know if he claims benefits, but that’s Sam Tarry

    Leon, how has co ban saved labour from new labour, Denis Skinner John Cruddas Gloria de perio’s, majorities were a lot higher when Gordon brown, the last new labour leader fought his election, and he only got 2 less MPs than Corbyn.

    Richard Mackinnon, in the article it was young labours policy,which is factually repeteted coreectly,

    Gordon, Ian paisley ans nick griffin(who had very seperate views’ on Israel for instance) would never join the tories. they always wanted to spend more money on the state,for instance

    This headline is worthy of the Daily mash

  13. John P Reid says:

    For what I can make out about, some of momentum, they dislike people who aren’t loyal to Jeremy,even as far as things like,if you put you’re voting for the local labour candidate, rather than the leader it’s disloyal
    If you voted Brexit, it’s disloyal,
    If you don’t want unite against fascism/stand up to racism/ Black lives matter UK,to help canvass for labour, because they’re linked to the SWP and comrade delta its disloyal,
    If you criticize people in the party who put on line the voted for George Galloway for ,London mayor its disloyal, as they’ve voted labour in the last

    Ironically some of them, accept the points about, ousting George Galloway backers, from the party or noteanting SWP/UAF to help,but the leadership of momentum,shout them down

  14. John Wall says:

    Well, as someone who’s just an interested observer – albeit from the right…..

    I think the likes of Rob and Atul are in a lot of trouble.

    Theresa May is not out of the woods regarding Brexit, but it does appear that the corner might be about to be turned after the more conciliatory tone from the rest of the EU on Friday. If the negotiations move on to discussing future trade arrangements in the not too distant future she – although I, and many others, don’t expect her to fight the next GE as Leader of the Conservatives – will be fairly safe. That means that the prospect of an early election fades. The DUP are likely to think very carefully before doing anything that could put an IRA supporter into Downing Street.

    Although Corbychev and the Communist – sorry, Labour – Party have improved in the opinion polls since April the lead currently averages 2-3%. This could be enough to be the largest party but is short of the, at least, 6-7% needed for an overall majority.

    A new Conservative leader, which most expect before the next GE, would probably get an immediate “honeymoon” and a boost in the polls. They would be able to build on a reasonable/good Brexit or distance themselves from a bad one – either way they could/should be in a win-win situation.

    In the meantime Momentum, et al can’t spend all their time “campaigning” – it’s not a lot of fun in the winter anyway !

    The attitude and tactics of the hard left are well established and documented and those of us – geeks – who follow these things and have been around for a while recognise what’s going on.

    A recent – and unexpected – leaflet through my door claimed that the local Corbyn – sorry, Labour – Party membership had increased by 50%, presumably from two to three! This, I understand, has been replicated across the country and includes those who would have been in Militant in the 80s.

    The recent experience of Luciana Berger shows what these people want – MPs who are delegates not representatives. It’s difficult not to believe that, in the run up to the next GE, there won’t be some replacement of centrist/Blairite MPs – what these then do is uncertain.

    Again for the geeks some will have noticed that the Conference Arrangements Committee has now been taken over by the hard left. This suggests that policies on things like Trident are likely to be changed over the next few years.

    Ancient Chinese curse, may you live in interesting times…..

  15. anosrep says:

    I can understand why Marchant is unhappy about Momentum “coming for Labour’s soul”, since he has always been firmly opposed to Labour having a soul at all.

  16. swat says:

    Actually when you come to think of it, some of those suggestions are worth thinking about. For example NATO alliances have drawn us into more conflicts than is good for us and prolonged the misery of peoples in far off places.
    And I’m not sure that Britain should be drawn into what is really a Regional dispute between say Ukraine and Russia the fallout from the breakup of the Great Russian Empire.
    And it seems to me an act of provocation to be pointing missiles at Russia right on their borders, a similar standoff occurred in the Cuba crisis, so the USA is adopting double standards here.
    And I’ve made my views on Israel pretty clear before: a One State Solution for Palestine is the only solution for ‘peace’ in the Arab World, whatever the Arabs mean by the word ‘peace’.

  17. Tony says:

    Our membership of the European Union has been endlessly debated, so why not debate NATO membership?

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