Report of Momentum NC 28 January 2017

by Nick Wrack

Eighteen members of the Momentum National Committee attended its meeting in London on Saturday 28 January 2017. I attended as a delegate from London, elected from the London Regional Committee. There were 13 regional delegates, two from the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), one from Red Labour, one LGBT+ rep and Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU. There were a further 30 observers from around the country.

We met in defiance of the coup carried out by the previous Steering Committee chair Jon Lansman and five allies who, without any discussion or prior notice, purported to impose a new constitution on Momentum, abolishing the existing regional committees/networks, the national committee, the steering committee and cancelling the national conference being planned by the Conference Arrangements Committee which had been elected at the National Committee held on 3 December 2016.

The meeting was called by members of the Steering Committee who opposed the coup.

Much has already been written about the coup. No doubt many Momentum members would like not to discuss it any more. But such a scandalous, undemocratic manoeuvre cannot simply be accepted or ignored – ostrich-like – so that we all just move along as though nothing of any import has occurred.

In forty years activity in the Labour movement I have not experienced anything like it. Can you imagine if a trade union had suffered a similar event? Imagine one morning you wake up and read that the president of your union has decided to cancel the annual conference; abolish the national committee and the regional committees; and to impose a new way of electing a new, different national leadership body. There would be uproar. There would be a revolt from below.

And rightly so. Anti-democratic acts are incompatible with the socialist movement. They will destroy it. Trade unionists and socialists aim for a new form of society – a society in which the limited democracy we now enjoy is extended to full democracy.  Such a society cannot be built unless the movement that aims to achieve it is itself democratic. Any attempts to cut corners, on the argument that the end justifies the means, will inevitably undermine our cause.

The socialist movement requires the mass engagement of the working class. But most people will not tolerate actions that undermine their ability to participate fully, expecting them to do as they are told. We need the Labour Party to be fully democratic, so that its members can argue for change and achieve it without bureaucratic obstacles preventing it. How can Momentum argue, without embarrassment, for the Labour Party to be democratised, if it tolerates what has just occurred?

Those who have organised and carried out this coup deserve no support whatsoever. Those who have welcomed the imposed constitution deserve the same. How can anyone who endorses such undemocratic practice be trusted to act democratically if elected to positions of authority within the Labour Party or trade unions? There is a layer that agrees that the coup was undemocratic but, for the sake of peace, argues that we should now just accept it and move on. I can’t agree with this approach either. Momentum is rotting from the head and it will soon affect every aspect of the organisation. The coup is no small matter, to be brushed to one side. When faced with such outrages people have to take a stand. Democracy is fundamental. Without it our movement cannot succeed.

It has been extremely encouraging to see so many local groups condemn and reject the coup. The LRC and Red Labour have refused to participate in the elections to the newly created National Coordinating Group (NCG).

It should be remembered that the members’ ‘survey’ issued by the national office, which has been used to justify the coup, was not trailed as being anything more than a survey. There had been no discussion over the content or formulation of the questions. There was no prior indication that it was to be used to alter the existing structures overnight. The constitution was imposed, not put to the members in the local groups, at a national conference or in an OMOV vote of all the members. It contains little OMOV. The constitution that I drafted with Matt Wrack contains far more OMOV but has been completely ignored. The new NCG will contain a minority of OMOV elected members’ representatives. It will be virtually impossible to change the new constitution. Those members who have argued for OMOV have been sold a pup.

It was very good that this NC meeting started with a political discussion, addressing national and international developments and the need for clear socialist policies to respond to the rising right-wing ‘populism’. We need more discussions like this at local level, addressing seriously how we deal with Brexit, trade wars, nationalism, racism, free movement, austerity and cuts and, more fundamentally, what sort of society are we striving to achieve.

Two motions were proposed and agreed with some minor amendments. In short form the NC rejected the coup and agreed that it would not dissolve. A new ‘coordinating committee’ was elected comprising Matt Wrack, Jackie Walker, Jill Mountford, Josie Runswick, Alec Price, Delia Mattiss and Michael Chessum.

Most importantly, the NC agreed to support a national meeting of representatives from local groups to take place on 11 March 2017. All local groups should discuss this and agree to send delegates.

There was some discussion about how to approach the current elections to the new NCG. My own view is that these elections should be boycotted. Opponents of the coup should not stand for election, nominate or vote. To do so, in my opinion, will only serve to give some legitimacy to the new constitution, when it deserves none whatsoever. However, some members of the NC had already put their names forward and there are anti-coup candidates standing, so I did not support the NC taking a position on whether to boycott or not. I believe that those who are standing are mistaken to do so; they are naïve to stand and are overestimating their ability to effect change.

I see no way of stopping or reversing the coup. Jon Lansman and his allies have effectively used their control of the database, the office and the means of communication to shut down any meaningful democracy within Momentum. Those who call for compromise should set out the detail of the compromise they believe possible. Every time a compromise has been reached Jon Lansman has acted to undo it. But, as a last-ditch effort to see if any compromise is possible, the NC agreed to my proposal that we invite Jon Lansman and his key supporters to meet with a delegation from the NC, under the auspices of John McDonnell, to see if we can find a way forward.

The crucial struggle to fight for democracy and socialist policies in the Labour Party has suffered a setback with recent developments in Momentum but that struggle will continue. We are not fair-weather friends of Jeremy Corbyn. We will continue to support him, critically when necessary, and we will not join those who voice a desire for a new leader. A new leader at this moment means a victory for the right and we must oppose that.

Much more must now be done to build a network of local groups, so that they can share experience and ideas, develop policy at a national level and coordinate activity. The meeting on 11 March will be a crucial staging post. That meeting must assert its commitment to democracy and socialist policies and develop a way to organise independent of those responsible for the coup. We need to build the activist socialist base in every Constituency Labour Party so that we have the numbers and the ideas to change the Labour Party from bottom to top.

What’s going on with Momentum’s Steering Committee?

From reports of last night’s hastily called Momentum National Steering Committee (a sub-committee, it should be remembered, of the National Committee) it is clear that an anti-democratic stitch-up has taken place.

Momentum was due to hold a National Committee next Saturday 5 November, with new people elected from the Regions. The present NC was put together on the basis of an opaque and dubious democracy in February and was supposed to sit for six months only. We are now two months past its sell-by date.

Recently the SC has begun (very belatedly) to consult the local groups and members on what structures we should have for the national conference which is scheduled for February. Only yesterday two papers were circulated from HQ for consultation. One was from Jon Lansman and the other was co-authored by Matt Wrack and Jill Mountford.

At 9:45pm on Thursday a notice went out calling a meeting of the SC for the following night (i.e. last night, Friday) – that is, with less than 24 hours notice. Matt Wrack was unable to attend.

At that meeting of the SC it decided by 7 votes to 2, as far as I can gather, to cancel the NC meeting on 5 November!

It then proceeded, on a motion from Jon Lansman, to vote for his proposal for a streamed conference with voting by all members via an online connection. i.e. no delegates, no branch representation. Now, whatever the merits of this (and I don’t think it has many) this was simply steam-rolling through Lansman’s own preferred option, in the absence of Matt (the General Secretary of the FBU, a major left union) and without waiting for the consultation with the local groups. And without waiting for next week’s scheduled NC.

It should be stated again: the SC is a sub-committee of the NC. How on earth can the sub-committee remove the rights of the NC, which is the very body that gives the SC any legitimacy?

The members of the SC who took these decisions are there well past their period of office.

Please read Jill Mountford’s report;

as well as Michael Chessum’s Facebook post;

and my own two FB comments: [1] [2]

I will post further updates when I get time.

Nick Wrack

Momentum Structures Discussion Paper

The following document has been circulated to some members of Momentum on 12 October 2016. It should be noted that this document was agreed only by the two officers of the Momentum Steering Committee, Jon Lansman and Michael Chessum. The third officer, Jackie Walker, had been removed from her post at the previous meeting on 3 October.

The document has not been discussed or agreed by the Momentum Steering Committee.

We note also that the document deals mainly with how policy proposals may be put to the national conference in February 2017, and does not cover the composition of the National Committee and how it is to be elected – something which we think is a crucial question.

The LPSN will publish a written response to these proposals in the near future.

Discussion papers from the Officers of the National Steering Committee

  1. Process for deciding Momentum’s new structures

Rather than attempting to decide Momentum’s structures at the National Committee, a body which is now technically running beyond its mandate and is not fully elected, the Steering Committee is proposing that Momentum’s permanent structures be debated at a national conference, and voted on either by delegates at that conference or by all members. This conference will take place in February (there is a separate paper on its composition).

The proposals we need to generate to go to that conference are not just about structures – they are also about what Momentum stands for and how we conduct ourselves. So there are 3 kinds of documents that can be submitted:

Momentum’s core politics and guiding principles – what we stand for

Momentum’s ethics and code of conduct – how we behave

Momentum’s democratic structures – how we make decisions

The process that the Steering Committee is proposing is designed to be as open as possible – proposals can come directly from members, unmediated by the National Committee or any other parts of Momentum’s ‘centre’.

Phase 1
Begins: November 12th
Drafts to be submitted to HQ for circulation: November 19th
Comments must be received at HQ by: December 9th
Revised documents submitted: January 9th

(dates assume an early Feb conference. A later conference should involve an extension of phase 1)
All members of Momentum will have the right to formulate and propose documents on the above areas. Members’ proposals attracting the support of 50 individual members will be circulated in a document (the “initial proposers”). All members and local groups will be able to submit comments or suggested amendments which will be considered by the initial proposers who may accept or reject them, and revise their documents prior to the next stage. They may also composite their documents with others

In order to progress to Phase 2, proposals will then need the support of:

200 individual members of Momentum.

Phase 2
Documents circulated: week commencing January 9th
Ends: One week before conference
This stage is an opportunity for local groups to discuss the final documents in advance of the conference and for people to declare their support, in order for favoured documents to get over the final hurdle. The numbers required to reach Phase 3 are:

1000 individual members; or

20 local groups; or

400 members and 10 local groups

Phase 3
The vote
The vote will take place between all proposals that make it to conference by Preferential Vote. The question of who gets to vote, and how conference is composed, is in section 2.
Questions which you should discuss:

  1. Do you agree with the broad process outlined, and if not, what should be used?
  2. Do you agree with the 3 categories of paper outlined above?
  3. Do you agree with the numbers needed to reach each stage, or are they too high or low?
  4. Do you agree with the dates and timescales outlined above?
  5. Do you have any other comments or suggestions?

Paper 2 – Momentum’s conference
The National Committee has already resolved (at its last meeting in May) that Momentum will hold a democratic conference in February 2017 in order to settle the permanent structures of the organisation. The text of the motion passed at the National Committee is as follows:
“We need a widely representative Momentum conference in order to empower the membership, push forward the development of our policy and activities, and allow groups to coordinate, network and become part of a national Momentum culture. We therefore agree to convene a democratic conference [in February 2017], representing local groups directly.”
We currently do not have an agreed delegate entitlement for the conference, or a firm idea of who can vote at it, other than that it will “represent local groups directly”.

The Steering Committee has commissioned a mapping exercise of Momentum’s local groups in order to determine the size of membership and health of local organisation, and to enable us to assist in supporting local activity. This process is underway, and will feed into the delegate

On the Steering Committee, there are different opinions as to how the conference should be composed. These include:

  • Delegates from local groups (according to their size)
  • A mixed delegate system: delegates from local groups (according to their size) and regional ‘top up’ lists elected by OMOV in order to represent people who live in areas not covered by local groups
  • No delegate system – the conference should be live-streamed and all Momentum members should be allowed to vote online

Questions which you should discuss:

  1. Should voting at conference be by delegates, or by an online ballot of Momentum members?
  2. If voting is by delegates, how should the delegate entitlement be calculated, and who should calculate it?  
  3. Apart from Momentum’s core documents (Politics, Ethics, Structure), what else should Momentum conference vote on, if anything?
  4. What kinds of sessions should the conference include? What should the agenda look like?
  5. Do you have any additional ideas and proposals for the composition of conference?