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.

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.

From social movement to socialist movement, a reply to Paul Mason

by Nick Wrack

I am currently working in Sheffield. It’s not a city that I’ve spent much time in, so one morning this week I went for an early walk around the city centre. The first thing I came across, immediately outside my hotel, was a plaque to Samuel Holberry, a radical Chartist who died of consumption in prison in 1842. He was imprisoned for advocating and trying to implement the People’s Charter, which called for universal male suffrage. The Chartists saw that as a way of fundamentally changing society in favour of the working class, who did not have the vote. When Samuel died, 50,000 attended his funeral.

50,000! In days without social media, TV or radio, without public transport. 50,000 walked from all the surrounding towns and villages to commemorate Samuel’s life and his struggle on their behalf. I reminded myself that what motivated these mourners was the revolutionary idea of change. This was a real social movement. The Chartists relied mainly on their newspapers and word of mouth. How much easier it should be today, I thought, with all the extra media we have at our disposal.

The point, of course, is that whatever media we have, it is the message not the medium that is paramount. In my opinion, the most important thing is to concentrate on the basic message of socialism, of abolishing capitalism and establishing a truly democratic society based on the common ownership of society’s resources. How we get that across is always open to improvement and innovation.

We haven’t seen anything quite like the Chartist movement, which was the first real mass working-class party and was revolutionary in content. But we have seen a mass social movement in support of Jeremy Corbyn with two peaks of activity this year and last ensuring that he was elected twice as Labour Party leader. Momentum emerged and grew out of this movement.

How does it harness that energy and ensure it continues and is channelled effectively into campaigning inside and outside the Labour Party?

Concentrate on the politics and on the campaigning. But, there are always practical issues that have to be resolved, some of which are more controversial than others. In the last few days one such issue has erupted in Momentum.

A mosquito bite

The well-known left-wing journalist and writer Paul Mason has written a series of articles on Mosquito Ridge setting out his own ideas and advice on how Corbyn and the movement around him should progress. Paul has recently written an article, Why I Joined Momentum. It’s very good that Paul has joined. He has a long involvement in the socialist left. His books and articles are thought-provoking and interesting to read. He writes with a breathless excitability that captures much of the mood around the election and re-election of Jeremy Corbyn.

I’ll state my position clearly here. I am a Marxist and therefore probably fall into Paul’s category of ‘hard left’, an unfortunate echo of Thatcher’s criticism of her socialist opponents in the 1980s. Only he can explain whether that puts me in the “die-hard Bolshevik re-enactment groups” or whether I adhere to a “zombie ideology”. Like so much of what Paul writes, he coins good phrases but passes over in silence what he means by them, rarely substantiating his sweeping statements. I enjoy reading Paul’s material but I also disagree with much, if not most, of what he says.

I believe that it is always better to engage with what your opponents actually say and do, rather than attribute to them arguments that they don’t share. There is little point in knocking down straw men.

His most recent article is an obvious engagement with the recent upheaval over Momentum democracy and how it should organise. The problem is, though, that it doesn’t address the origin of the argument.

It’s about process not OMOV

The recent debate has erupted not over the substantive merits or otherwise of OMOV (one member, one vote) or of delegated democracy but over the undemocratic trampling of any democratic process by seven members of the Momentum Steering Committee. That is the starting point. You either agree with the way Jon Lansman and the other six behaved at the Steering Committee meeting on 28 October or you don’t.

Paul doesn’t even begin to engage with what happened; what led to the recent motions of censure of the Steering Committee by at least four regions of Momentum. To my knowledge he hasn’t contacted the main opponent of the SC decisions, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack.

Now Paul can disagree with Matt Wrack’s proposals in favour of a delegate conference. He can champion OMOV. But surely any competent journalist would seek, in fact is obliged to ask for, a comment on what happened, so that he can properly engage with the other side. I don’t expect Paul not to have his own opinion, but I would have more respect for it if it were an informed one.

The complaints have not been primarily about OMOV but about the process by which OMOV has been imposed on the Momentum conference without any decision being taken by the Momentum National Conference. On Friday 28 October, the Steering Committee voted at an ‘emergency’ meeting to cancel a meeting of the NC scheduled for 5 November, which would have been discussing this very issue.

Papers with different proposals about how Momentum should organise its national and local structures, including national conference, had only just begun to circulate, with two papers – one from Jon Lansman and one from Matt Wrack – going out from the Momentum office only hours before the SC met. The SC also voted to discuss the conference, even though it wasn’t mentioned on the order paper in the notification for the meeting, and imposed a streamed conference with online voting of the 20,000 members, cutting across the process of consultation that the SC had itself initiated. Matt Wrack’s paper was consigned to the dustbin in his absence.

Of course, behind any organisational difference, such as we see now, there are political differences. But Paul is wrong to see this as a binary argument between the ‘hard left’ “negative, factionalist tendencies” who want delegated democracy and those who argue for “a horizontal, consensus-based organization, directly accountable to its mass of members” who want OMOV. There were supporters of OMOV who voted for the motion of censure at the London Regional Committee.

Semblance of worth, not substance

Like much of Paul’s writing, the article is a broad brush, a pell-mell sweep, without any substantive argument being elaborated. There are no quotes setting out the arguments he purports to engage with, no examples to back up his dystopian predictions. Just superficial assertions. They’re nicely written but they remain unsubstantiated assertions. (I’ll have to deal with some other political issues raised by Paul’s article in a future article, for reasons of space.)

Now, I will openly admit that I do not yet have a complete answer to the constitutional difficulties posed by Momentum’s rapid growth to 20,000 members. No sensible socialist wants to do anything to exclude or limit the involvement of any one of those members. We have new technology in terms of social media and use of the internet that open up possibilities that were not available in the 1980s or 1990s. So all proposals are up for discussion and should not be dismissed (by either side) in a cavalier fashion.

But, likewise, reservations and hesitations about online voting should also not be dismissed as old-fashioned, hard left, hierarchical etc. Let’s consider all the proposals on their merits. This immediately raises a difficulty. To consider all the proposals carefully requires time, patience and effort in setting out the competing proposals, and having the time to read them and to consider them carefully. Such deliberation is usually assisted by having face to face discussions with others involved, in meetings or online, or both.

And that is precisely what the SC did not allow. It did not allow the local groups to discuss the various papers and to make their own proposals. It did not even allow the NC, which is surely a higher authority than the SC, the opportunity to discuss the issues. It did not send out the documents to the 20,000 members. The papers have still not been posted on the Momentum website for all to see and comment. I have heard the justification for OMOV from some of its advocates, “trust the members”. Well, why haven’t the papers been sent out to all the members, or posted online for them to see, so that they can think for themselves? And why haven’t the proponents of the different methods been given direct access to the members to explain why they support a particular proposal rather than another?

Accountability

Here are some basic questions that any serious participant in Momentum should be asking. If you want to avoid a hierarchical structure, is it a good idea to have all the Momentum supporters’ data – phone numbers, emails, addresses etc – owned by a company with little if any transparency about who controls it? No amount of OMOV will improve things if Momentum can essentially be controlled by one person threatening to pack up and take the data away.

Do we need elected officers who are accountable to the members? Is it right that one person can make decisions about Momentum’s finances without reference to other officers? If the answer is yes, we do need officers but they must be accountable, then isn’t that a form of hierarchy. The issue, surely, is not about having a hierarchy, it is whether it is a necessary layer of bureaucracy or not; whether it is exercised transparently or not; whether it is accountable or not; whether the officers can be recalled or not.

My concern is that we are able to hold leaders to account. To do that we need effective and efficient ways of communicating as members, of meeting together to discuss and make decisions. Quite often, a concern will be answered or recede in importance following discussion.

The purpose of rules

The labour and trade union movement has spent two hundred years developing forms of working class democracy with the purpose of strengthening and building this movement. On many occasions this democracy has been abused, by both the right and the Stalinists. Rank and file union members and Labour Party members have often had to fight against the bureaucratic misapplication of the rules and procedure of the movement. We saw an example of this undemocratic manipulation at this year’s Labour Party conference.

The socialist left should always be prepared to be self-critical and question the way it works. We know that many union and Labour Party meetings are as dry as dust, uninteresting and devoid of politics. New members have to be very determined indeed if they are ever to return. We don’t want to replicate that in Momentum. So anything that can improve on this is to be welcomed. Are the new methods better than the old?

At the same time, many of the ‘old’ methods have survived precisely because they work. Constitutions, rules and ‘standing orders’ can protect members’ rights and can be used to hold leaders to account. Delegated democracy has developed because there is a practical difficulty in getting large numbers of people together to make decisions on complicated issues. These can be difficulties of time, size of venue, cost and so on. Perhaps these can be overcome by OMOV but it will be difficult.

If 20,000 can watch the conference online and vote online, what is the purpose of anyone attending? If only the self-selecting few attend, who decides on the agenda, the speakers? If someone sitting at home objects to a perceived abuse of procedure how do they intervene to raise a point of order, to challenge the chair etc?

Privilege

Paul Mason unintentionally raises another problem with OMOV. He accepts that he, as a journalist, is in a privileged position. He does not have to engage in any Momentum local group. He can post an article online and thousands will read it. It is unlikely that they will read the replies from lesser-known Momentum members. This leads to an obvious inequality that does not exist to anything like the same degree when decisions are taken in face to face meetings when everyone is on an equal (horizontal?) level. I believe that face to face discussion is by far the most effective way to conduct debate and to arrive at decisions.

More fundamental, I suspect, are my concerns that OMOV may lead to a ‘scissors’ effect within Momentum, that is, to a widening gap between the ‘active’ and the ‘passive’ members. Our aim should be to involve as many members as possible in discussion and decision making. Members should feel that they own the organisation and have a democratic say in what it does and how it is done. In any political organisation some will be more active than others, whether because of commitment or difficulties of engaging – disability, child care, shift work and so on. We have to find ways of making sure that those who want to participate but can’t, are enabled to do so. This may involve online participation.

But if we have online voting it is possible that we will end up with decisions that reflect the choices of passive members – those who, out of choice, do not attend meetings and who don’t follow the debates and discussions; who are happy to click a 38 degrees-type motion but not to go out campaigning or canvassing – and ignore or override the views of the active members who do the campaigning work and run the local groups. If these views are in conflict, we could end up with the passive layer deciding on campaigns and policies that carry no support from the active members who will be the ones expected to implement them.

This will lead to demobilisation, demoralisation of the activists and the eventual shrivelling of local groups. Without the local groups Momentum will not survive. Perhaps, though, that is what some would prefer – no unruly local groups; just a passive bloc of members who will vote for left-wing slates for the Labour Party NEC drawn up by unaccountable cliques.

The problem with this, however, is that it will not bring about the vital change in local constituency Labour Parties. Change in the Labour Party requires that Momentum supporters turn up at ward and CLP meetings, argue their politics and vote for candidates who will represent them. Building a mass online membership will not be enough. We cannot change the Labour Party, let alone society, by clicking on a touchpad or mouse at home.

Our starting point when considering structures should be to consider the main purpose of the organisation. The constitution and rules must be geared to its objectives. Momentum should, in my opinion, be aiming to build mass active local groups that will turn out to the local working-class communities and turn in towards the Labour Party to bring about the change we need to win support for socialist policies.

My preference at the moment is for a delegate-based conference as I have serious reservations that an OMOV conference will assist in that process.

 

 

 

A statement from the Labour Party Socialist Network on Jackie Walker and Momentum

The Labour Party Socialist Network is opposed to the suspension of Jackie Walker from the Labour Party and is opposed to the moves from sections of the Momentum leadership to remove her from her position as Vice-Chair of Momentum.

The calls for her removal clearly originated with those who have their own anti-Corbyn, anti-Momentum agenda. It is pushed by those who want to stop any critical discussion about the role of the Israeli government in its treatment of the Palestinians.

Supporters of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians want to curtail any such criticism by equating it with anti-Semitism, by equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Such criticism does not equate.

It should not be forgotten that the issue arose because someone has released a film of the discussion at what everyone present thought would be a private meeting of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) in which there could be open and honest engagement on potentially controversial subjects. Those responsible have deliberately manipulated their recording to manufacture maximum embarrassment for Momentum and Corbyn and hostility towards Jackie Walker.

A careful viewing of the film clip shared on the Huffington Post reveals that there is no basis for the accusation that Jackie said anything at the meeting that was anti-Semitic. We do not believe that she is anti-Semitic.

We cannot agree with those on the left who have rushed to condemn her comments as being anti-Semitic and have called for her to be removed as Vice-Chair of Momentum on that basis, instead of confronting these unfounded allegations.

Initially, some in the leadership of Momentum, without first notifying Jackie of their intentions, went to the press to call for her removal as Vice Chair. There has still been no formal notification to the Steering Committee that it will meet this coming Monday to discuss the issue.

Now, apparently, those seeking to remove Jackie have said that there is to be no disciplinary action taken against her within Momentum.

Presumably this is because it is accepted that she did not say anything that could be considered anti-Semitic. If this is so, then why is there a continued determination to remove her as Vice-Chair? It can only be to appease her accusers. But they will not be appeased. They will want more.

Why has she been suspended (again) by the Labour Party? The Labour Party’s right-wing Compliance Unit has clearly been encouraged by the stance taken by sections of Momentum’s leadership.

Do those calling for Jackie’s removal not understand that this is a political attack on the left; an attempt to undermine Momentum? If Jackie is removed today those who have initiated this attack will be back for another target tomorrow, and another the day after.

Whatever one’s views on Jackie’s comments at the JLM event, she should be defended against these attacks. We must protect free speech and the right to be critical. There is no place for hatred or hostility towards Jews within the Labour Party or anywhere else. But honest criticism of political positions or clumsy questioning do not constitute such.

The controversial issues of Israeli policy, of Zionism, of Israeli-Palestinian relations and of the rights of the Palestinian people are extremely contested in society and especially in the Labour movement. If we are to make any headway on these or any other subjects we must ensure that we protect open, honest, rational and critical but comradely discussion.