A positive outcome: Report of Momentum National Committee

The Saturday 3 December 2016 meeting of the Momentum National Committee (NC) made a series of important decisions which enable the whole Momentum membership to build for a successful first national conference in late February/early March 2017.

It will help your understanding of this report to have the compendious papers prepared for the meeting before you.

There have been quite a few reports of the meeting; some have been quite negative and, in my opinion, completely misrepresent what took place. Some will have caused consternation among Momentum’s impressively large 20,000 members, especially as some very negative and destructive comments have been widely reported in the mainstream press. While there was some poor behaviour on both sides there was nothing to justify the outlandish, toe-curling accounts given in some reports.

It is important to note that, despite the meeting being fractious at times, a lot was achieved. The NC agreed, albeit by small majorities, a set of procedures for taking motions and electing delegates for the important first Momentum national conference. No decisions have been made in respect of electing a new National Committee. I assume that will be a decision made by conference.

Although the procedures agreed will not be to everybody’s satisfaction – and clearly they upset some of the NC delegates who voted against them – they give us all  clear guidance for the size and composition of conference, how motions can be sent and how delegates will be elected. We can now focus on the debates we want to have, while building the local groups. In my opinion, Momentum must look outwards to recruit new members to Labour and to Momentum itself, and turn in towards the ward and constituency Labour Party to strengthen support for Jeremy Corbyn and the socialist left.

Failure to re-elect the Steering Committee

Disappointingly, the NC failed narrowly to assert control over the Steering Committee (SC), which has repeatedly ignored or by-passed the NC. The SC had cancelled a previous meeting of the NC and decided a method of organising conference. Both decisions had to be rescinded following an outcry from the membership. The SC had then proceeded to introduce the MxV website for inviting proposals to conference, without waiting for this NC to consider the matter. As it was, the MxV system was rejected by the NC.

Further, three of the SC members were no longer members of the NC. Two – Michael Chessum and Marshajane Thompson – had stood for re-election to the NC twice and lost both times. Sam Wheeler did not seek re-election. Nearly all of the delegates to the NC had been re-elected recently, yet the SC had not had its mandate renewed. By the decision of the NC the SC has been allowed to continue in office despite its lack of any meaningful mandate.

Despite this, the balance sheet for the NC is positive, even though getting through the full agenda was at times difficult. Even those whose proposals and arguments were defeated should accept that the decisions have been made and should now help to ensure that the conference is successful. It is important that conference decides on how Momentum is to be structured and what its aims and objectives are.

I have no desire to fall out with those who voted against the propositions I supported, or who supported propositions I opposed. Voting is how we resolve differences. We move on. We all, I hope, want to see Momentum continue to grow and deepen its influence inside the Labour Party.

Changing the order of business

I spoke at the beginning of the meeting after a video message from Jeremy Corbyn was played welcoming us all to the National Committee, and after introductory remarks from Matt Wrack (General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union) who chaired the first session. I moved an amendment to the agenda to take parts 2 and 3 of Motion 10 from London as the first item. This motion called for the NC to hold an election for the SC.

This proposed change to the agenda was so that, if the parts from Motion 10 passed, there would be enough time to hold elections for the Steering Committee, count the ballot and announce the results. I should stress that several of us had agreed to make this proposed change to the agenda as soon as we had seen it. It had nothing to do with people being absent due to lateness, as has been suggested by some. I had no idea at the time that not everyone was present.

I also moved that Item 6 (on conference arrangements) and Item 7 (motions from regions) were taken next. Members in many local groups, or at least regional committees/networks, had discussed the various options regarding the structure of conference at some length. It was important that we did not run out of time and fail to make the essential decisions on how conference was to be conducted. I argued that it would also mean we could discuss the less contentious issues as a last item and leave the meeting in a spirit of unity. As it turned out, we did run out of time and could not deal with everything on the agenda.

As part of my motivation I firstly noted that we all agreed on the significant achievements of Momentum – helping to re-elect Jeremy Corbyn, building across the country and recruiting 20,000 members. I argued that we should aim to play our part in building a million-strong Labour Party with socialist policies and aim to double and triple Momentum’s membership, as an essential step in transforming the Labour Party. That is why we need effective, democratic and accountable leading committees. Any disagreements between us at the NC had to be seen against our common venture. I also explained that any criticisms of the Steering Committee were not personal, but political, and were certainly not directed at the staff or volunteers, whose work is valued and appreciated by all.

I had written a series of observation and recommendations on how to vote, which I distributed to the NC delegates. I will admit that I heard much stronger arguments than mine from other delegates on many of the issues, for example on the importance of the conference being able to discuss policy, as set out in Option B [Purpose and powers of conference, see below]. And I was persuaded by the debate to change my mind on at least one occasion.

The decisions made

  • The NC voted 27-26 to take London’s motion 10, parts 2 & 3 at the beginning of the meeting. This was a a proposal to hold an election for a new Steering Committee.
    I moved the proposal and voted for it.
  • The NC voted 28-24 to then take Items 6 (conference procedure) and 7 (motions from regions) and move other items on the agenda to follow.
    I moved the proposal and voted for it.
  • The NC then voted 30-29 against holding an election for a new Steering Committee.
    I moved the Motion and voted for it.

    There were issues about the credentials of some of the delegates and whether they were all entitled to vote. I will deal with this in a separate article.

Item 6: Conference

  1. The Purpose and powers of conference:
    The NC voted 29-28 in support of Option B, moved by Matt Wrack, as opposed to Option A, moved by Jon Lansman. Option A limited the scope of motions to be submitted to conference. Option B made it clear that conference was the sovereign body of Momentum and allowed policy making motions to be submitted to conference.
  2. Timing of conference:
    Option B (to hold the conference in April) was withdrawn. Option A was agreed, with the conference to be held one week either side of 25 February 2017. The date was remitted to the newly elected Conference Arrangements Committee.

[We had a lunch break and then reconvened. Here something quite extraordinary occurred. The delegate from Left Futures called for a recount on the vote taken on The purpose and powers of conference despite the fact that we had moved on to the next item, voted on it and then taken a lunch break. Some forty or so minutes had passed and it appeared that some delegates had arrived late. Perhaps it was thought the original narrow vote could be overturned.

[Christine Shawcroft, in the chair, called for a vote on the motion to take a recount and her ruling was challenged. The motion to challenge the chair’s ruling was tied at 29-29, so was not carried. The motion to recount was then put and was defeated 32-29, with one abstention.]

  1. How proposals get to conference

Option A (Jon Lansman) received 27 votes. This was a complicated set of hurdles involving MxV.

Option B (London, North East, West Midlands) received 32 votes; with one abstention. This set out the basis of a delegate conference based on local groups and liberation groups and a clear time-table, alongside an e-forum for all members and an online priorities ballot.
Two amendments to Option B were overwhelmingly defeated.

I voted for Option B.

  1. Composition of conference:
    Consideration 1

    It was agreed by 33 votes – a majority, so the votes against were not counted – to agree that delegates to conference be on the basis of 2 per every 100 members or part thereof.I voted for this basis of representation, as I thought it would be easier to book a suitably sized venue.

    Consideration 2

    Option A was agreed by 35 votes. This proposed that there would be delegates elected by one-member-one-vote (OMOV) from areas without a local group on the same ration as for local groups.
    As this was a majority, Option B from London (delegates only, no top-up lists) fell.I had originally intended to vote for Option B but in fact was persuaded by the discussion to change my mind and I voted for Option A, the OMOV election.It was further agreed that motions could be sent to conference with the support of 30 members from areas where there is no local group.
    I had not intended to support this but changed my mind and voted for it.
    Consideration 3

    Option A was withdrawn.
    It was agreed by 30 votes (Option B) to 27 votes (Option C) to have further discussion between the NC and the various liberation strands and Youth & Students about the number of delegates they should have to conference. There will be at least one further NC before conference.I spoke in favour of Option B and voted for it.
  2. Who organises conference?

    It was overwhelmingly agreed that a Conference Arrangements Committee of 7 be elected at this NC. Later, following one-minute speeches from (I think) 13 candidates the following seven were elected: Delia Mattis, Jackie Walker, Alec Price, Josie Runswick, Huda Elmi, Lotte Boumelha and James Elliott.
  3. How voting is done?

    There were four mutually exclusive options so voting was done by exhaustive ballot:

Option A (Jon Lansman) which proposed conference delegates voting for six proposal is each of three categories, followed by an OMOV STV ballot. It received 28 votes.

Option B (Michael Chessum) which was a sort of hybrid of delegate debate and OMOV followed by a 7-stage process. It received 0 votes.

Option C (London) which proposed a delegate conference with decisions made at the conference. It received 28 votes.

Option D (Yorkshire & Humberside) which proposed a simpler hybrid system. It received [I am not sure that it was counted, as it obviously fell]

As Options B & D fell there was a second ballot between A & C.

Option A received 28 votes.
Option C received 31 votes – Carried.

I spoke in favour of Option C and voted for it.

  1. How local groups elect delegatesIt was agreed that local groups would elect delegates by face to face meetings open to all members; where there is no local group, election will be by OMOV.

Item 7: Motions from Regions etc

  1. National housebuilding (South East) – eco-homes: Carried on a show of hands.
  2. Defend Migrants, defend free movement (Youth& Students, Lewisham) – An amendment to remove ‘privately’ from the last sentence was carried. The motion was then carried on a show of hands, with two abstentions.
  3. Motions/Items 5 & 6 were remitted to the SC.
  4. Motion 4: Suspensions and annulments (North West) was moved formally and carried without debate on a show of hands.

There was no time to take the remaining motions, nor to discuss the mapping exercise. The Treasurer’s Report was ‘Noted’ and will be considered at the next NC meeting to be held in January.

Disappointment

Some comments on social media have expressed disappointment at the decisions to proceed with a delegate-based conference. I can understand this. Many see OMOV as a better, more inclusive way of making decisions. I don’t see it as such a blanket panacea. It has its place and, as you can see above, I voted in favour of it for certain aspects of the conference arrangements.

I have made some general observations about OMOV in an article, which I encourage you to read. But the debate at the NC was not about OMOV in the abstract. It was the particular OMOV proposals that were presented to this NC that had to be considered. In my opinion they were convoluted, overly complicated and would have caused confusion. They could have led to different conflicting decisions, some backed by conference but rejected by the membership, causing uncertainty and a lack of clarity at the very least. Please take the time to read the proposals in the NC papers. Conference can still make decisions to introduce OMOV for some or all of Momentum’s decision making. For the reasons in my article, I don’t think that would be sensible, but conference is sovereign.

I can’t accept the criticism that those of us who voted for a primarily delegate-based conference are somehow acting against the interests of Momentum or “care little for reforming and democratising the Labour Party and even less so about getting it elected into government”, let alone the more outrageous and scurrilous accusations made against me and others. Such criticism is nothing more than spiteful and exaggerated factionalising after losing a series of votes. It is a large bunch of sour grapes. We will always have differences; if it is not over OMOV it will be about something else. Differences are inevitable in politics. It’s how we deal with them that is important. We disagree. We vote. We shake hands or have a pint. As I said above, we move on.

Moving on

I hope we can now have some productive discussions in the run up to conference, debating what we want Momentum to stand for and to campaign for alongside some serious campaigning. I hope to see the local groups grow and proliferate.

If we are to transform the Labour Party from top to bottom, as is required to strengthen the new leadership, then we need to build our activist base, with a commitment to socialist policies. That, surely, has to be one of the main things to come out of conference.

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?