Battle over democracy as Momentum prepares for 2017 conference

A murky horizon? Momentum members are among Jeremy Corbyn’s strongest supporters, but he risks losing them, opines The Graun. This Writer disagrees [Image: Filip Singer/EPA].

A murky horizon? Momentum members are among Jeremy Corbyn’s strongest supporters, but he risks losing them, opines The Graun. This Writer disagrees [Image: Filip Singer/EPA].

What a shame: Organisers of the Jeremy Corbyn-supporting organisation Momentum appear to be splitting, with each faction claiming the other is betraying democracy.

Focus of the split is Momentum founder Jon Lansman. One group says his plans for computerised, one-member-one-vote democracy feeding into a delegate-led debate is a “slap in the face” for democracy – the other touts it as the future of democracy.

The Guardian article quoted below focuses heavily on a blog by Laura Murray, a Lansman supporter – but blows its credibility by suggesting that a meeting of Momentum’s national committee on Saturday was “to decide whether to support the one-member-one-vote (OMOV) system favoured by Lansman, or a delegate-based system… Critics have claimed that a delegate-based system will mean that the hard left will be able to control Momentum’s future direction”.

In fact, the meeting was called to discuss arrangements for the organisation’s conference in February next year, when delegates will discuss broad political and campaigning priorities for the organisation and questions of strategy and tactics relating to its involvement in the Labour Party.

It seems members decided to support a procedure in which delegates debate and approve – or reject – motions submitted by Momentum’s constituent organisations, with an online forum for all members where motions can be discussed, amendments mooted and compositing processes arranged, and an online priorities ballot.

This was the controversial part.

Mr Lansman’s proposal was for his online, one-member-one-vote method to be used to propose motions and gather supporters for them – but also to whittle them down to the six most popular motions in each of three categories – purpose, ethics and structure (and a catch-all ‘other’ category for those that don’t fit in any of them).

Delegates would debate all six proposals in each category – and vote on them – but the final say would go to members, after the conference, who would vote on only three proposals in each category, using the digital OMOV method.

Here’s the catch, though: Only the top three proposals – one for each category – would be approved.

Momentum LGBT+ co-representative Josie Runswick had this to say about it, in her own blog:

“It represents a slap in the face to the membership. What it allows, at the end of a lengthy and complex process, is asking the membership to whittle nine potential policies down to three. Just three actions to take from a national conference and months of organising work.
“It is also a slap in the face to all of the local and regional groups which have been organising, building and campaigning for the last year. It affords them absolutely no real say in the agenda of conference, and doesn’t allow their conference delegates to do any more than reduce eighteen motions to nine.

“I could not see any positives in the specifics of the Lansman proposals, so I voted against them.

“It is worth noting that electronic OMOV is still used several times in the run-up to the conference, and it also worth noting that nothing prevents conference from agreeing to put proposals to an electronic OMOV ballot of the membership. I would be minded to do this myself on some major issues.”

Contrast this with Ms Murray’s comments, in her blog:

“People who have only recently flocked into the Labour Party from other left-wing parties seek to agitate against Jon Lansman, in the hope that they can take ownership of Momentum for themselves.

It is in the context of these bitter and hurt groups that we lost any proposal to use OMOV for elections — other than for those areas of the country which don’t have local Momentum groups — and lost the proposal to use MxV to propose and vote on motions.

“These groups are unified only by their opposition to Jon Lansman and their realisation that the existing structures and processes are those which benefit themselves and their style of politics.”

What do you think?

The Guardian‘s piece scaremongers shamelessly, suggesting that under this “Trotskyite” controlled Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn could lose the group’s support. It quotes Ms Murray’s claim that “Jeremy Corbyn will inevitably make one compromise or concession that isn’t ideologically pure enough for them, and they will abandon him and Labour altogether to turn Momentum into a rival leftwing party”.


No. Momentum was created to support Mr Corbyn and the new vigour he has brought to the politics of the Left.

This seems nothing more than bleating from those who themselves sought to control the organisation undemocratically and then accused those who foiled them of exactly the same thing.

Sharp divisions have emerged within Momentum, the grassroots organisation that supports Jeremy Corbyn, following reports of an attempted takeover by Trotskyist and factional groups, an executive committee member has claimed.

Momentum’s women’s officer has written a blog claiming that members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and others are seeking to wrest control from its founder, Jon Lansman. Laura Murray, who is also a Labour shadow cabinet adviser, has claimed that ultimately, some activists will try to force Momentum to abandon Corbyn and turn to another leftwing organisation.

Source: Trotskyist factions seeking to take over Momentum, member claims | Politics | The Guardian

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23 thoughts on “Battle over democracy as Momentum prepares for 2017 conference

  1. tiggysagar

    Why is Momentum behaving like a party? Surely we should be supporting Jeremy’s policies? I don’t want to be a politician and have quite enough of dealing with motions at Labour Party meetings.

    1. A Grumpy_Old_Man (@Hairyloon)

      Is that not precisely the point?
      They should be looking at input from people like you without you having to get political about it.
      It is not clear what trouble it is you are having with your motions, but that trouble is clearly a big part of the problem.

    2. poetrymuseum

      Exactly. Vox Political does not get it. Momentum is NOT a Party. It was not intended to be. There are ten party pledges that Jeremy has and Momentum activists can campaign on those – the main point about Momentum is that if you live in an area where the CLP is anti the leader, you can try to change that and recruit to Momentum by campaigning on issues of importance to local people – for example in Hastings we support the RMT and raise issue of nationalisation of rail on of Corbyn’s policies. We are fortunate because we have a leftish CLP and a pretty united one. But then we don’t have any or many (known) AWL members either!

  2. A Grumpy_Old_Man (@Hairyloon)

    Trust Momentum to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The proposal looks like it could be the basis of a properly effective mechanism, but you manage to find a catch and focus on it.
    The catch you have found is of no consequence: throw it away and be done with it.
    It is like test driving a car and rejecting it because you’ve arrived at a place with lousy coffee.

  3. A Grumpy_Old_Man (@Hairyloon)

    Though having now looked at the Guardian pages, I may have been over hasty in championing the online discussion system: it seems they propose a “virtual reality conference…”
    If that had not come near the end of 2016, I’d probably have said that was the daftest idea I’d ever heard…

  4. Wamda Lozinska

    Here’s what REALLY happened!
    By Kevin, who actually attended the meeting:

    I share this news story only because I need to challenge it for the nonsense it is and to offer reassurance to rank and file Momentum members and activists.

    I was one of the 61 NC delegates in Birmingham on Saturday (representing SW region) and the suggestion of a Trotskyist takeover is quite frankly untrue. Similarly the suggestion that Jill Mountford and others bullied younger delegates is nothing short of disgraceful snd wholly without substance.

    For the record the meeting began with a proposal to elect a new Steering Committee and this was defeated – despite the initial SC only being ‘temporary’ and intended to be replaced in the summer. As someone who voted to keep the current SC my reasoning is purely pragmatic. We are holding a delegate national conference in a few weeks and no other major change is needed before then. Hardly a take over then if we changed nothing!

    We also agreed that delegates to our conference should be elected by local groups, that motions could be submitted by local groups, that policy and constitutional issues should be decided by delegate voting and that unless there was a 55% majority on these issues that a ballot of all paid up members would decide the matter. These are hardly the actions of centrist entryists.

    Saturday’s Momentum NC was an excellent exercise in democracy. We had keen and informed debate. We had closely contested votes. We had passion and commitment. However we left with a sense of unity and with an acceptance of the democratic process. Nobody got everything they wanted and that’s maybe the hallmark of real democracy.

    1. A Grumpy_Old_Man (@Hairyloon)

      The fact that these things are even coming to question is indicative of a failure in your system: if you want to engage the wider population with this new breed of politics, then it needs to be sufficiently transparent that they can have confidence in it.

  5. ghost whistler

    Where were labour during Mhairi BLack’s recent attempt (doomed to failure unfortunately) to outlaw benefit sanctions?

    Labour don’t care about the people and pretending they do is offering nothing more than a dangerous false dawn.

    Corbyn’s popularity is limited and he is not seen as a good leader by the electorate which is why he will fail the general election.

    If Labour don’t get their s**t together we will be stuck with another five years of misery.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Labour was in the Commons chamber, in support of Ms Black’s private members’ bill.
      Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams spoke at length.
      Perhaps you are suggesting party members should have turned up in larger numbers. To what end? It was always known that the bill would be talked out.
      Labour does care about the people – but the party knows that it must put the effort in where it will make a difference. You have yet to grasp that, it seems.
      Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity is greater than you think. It is no accident that Labour has recorded significant increases in voter support where pro-Corbyn candidates have been fielded in recent by-elections.

      1. ghost whistler

        This is the same Debbie Abrams who isn’t opposed to sanctions?

        Who needs that?

        It doesn’t matter how popular I think Corbyn is. It matters that he is not seen by enough of the electorate to be credible.

        And he didn’t win in Richmond either.

        Labour has had its hand red with the blood of austerity over these last few years, just look at Marvin Rees’ disgusting capitulation to cuts that will destroy Bristol

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        You really like changing the subject when you’re losing, don’t you?

        No, this is Debbie Abrahams, who is opposed to sanctions.

        Don’t you remember her speech at Labour conference in September? “This Government’s punitive sanctions system must go too, so Job Centre Plus and employment support providers’ performance will not just be assessed on how many people they get off their books.”

        Labour’s candidate in Richmond was not a Corbyn supporter. Raising his loss only supports my argument.

        As for Bristol City Council’s cuts – are you really, honestly trying to blame a local council because it has to work within the limits set by the Conservative Government in Westminster? Don’t you know what will happen if Bristol resists? Think back to the 1980s.

      3. ghost whistler

        Abrahams, excuse me for a minor spelling mistake. Same person.

        Bristol city Council has had alternatives, like all Labour councils that, through crocodile tears, say they have no choice. THey do have a choice: the Socialist Party, among others, have put forward the idea of using reserves. and prudential borrowing, something suggested also here:

        Labour are no better than the scum in government and if you can’t see that you are doing us a disservice. Marvin Rees, a labour mayor, is planning cuts, while given an alternative, that will KILL people.

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        I would suggest that the DisabledGo article may be using out-of-date information as the announcement at conference was made after the comments that were quoted.
        As for Bristol City Council: All councils must keep reserves at a certain level, to cover unforeseen eventualities. Whilst it is possible to use them on annual spending in times of plenty, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any available for such a purpose now. Remember, the Tories have been squeezing local councils for six years.
        You suggest borrowing, but how is the council supposed to pay back that money? Do you want it to spend future revenue paying off the interest on that sum, rather than providing services? I think you would be among the first to criticise if that happened.
        Please, be realistic. It is impractical to criticise a council for making the only choice available to it.

      5. ghost whistler

        Citation needed.

        Bristol Council has been offered plans that are perfectly legal. this is just nonsense.

        Arguing that the Mayor has no choice is a barefaced lie. If this is the best labour can do then what’s the point of them?

        Where is this alternative Corbyn is offering when he won’t lift a finger to help people in his own constituency?

        You are being monumentally naive

      6. Mike Sivier Post author

        Why do I need a citation? I’m not quoting anybody!

        It isn’t nonsense to say that a plan doesn’t just have to be legal; it must be practicable as well. That’s where yours falls down.

        I’m not saying he doesn’t have a choice. I’m saying he shouldn’t choose your option. See the difference?

        I’m not going to discuss Corbyn as you are simply trying to change the subject again. Your opinion of me is your own business.

        Unless you have anything useful to add to this discussion – of issues relating to Momentum – it would be better if you left it there, I think.

      7. ghost whistler

        You’ve made two claims, i’d like to see your evidence:
        1. The article is using inaccurate data
        2. Councils cannot implement alternatives such as I’ve suggested.

        My option saves peoples lives and jobs. What does your option achieve except to emphasis the capitulation of the Labour party to Tory austerity, as it has over 6 years. WIthout an end in sight. Corbyn hasn’t done enough to convince enough of the electorate to vote for him. So unless people on the ground, such as councillors, are prepared to do something different, working class people up and down the country will continue to suffer and die.

        Where are the Labour politicians when kids are taking their own lives due to benefit sanctions and DWP bullying?

        Where is the left? Nowhere. Instead we have bent union leaders like McCluskey taking money for private property, and the PCS turning a blind eye to poverty inflicted on people by its own members.

        I don’t think it would be better left there at all. This is the discussion that needs to be happening and I bet I’m not the only one that thinks so. Are you afraid to have it?

      8. Mike Sivier Post author

        The text of the DisabledGo article admits that the claim that Labour was not opposing sanctions was made before Ms Abrahams’ speech. It’s in the article you raised.
        And I didn’t say council’s cannot implement the alternative you suggested – just that it would be extremely unwise.
        Your option cushions the blow. It encourages people to think that the Tories aren’t so bad – their cuts can be dodged and everything will be all right when it won’t. It merely puts off the inevitable – the fact that any money used in the way you describe will have to be paid back, most likely at the cost of even more jobs, services, and possibly lives later on. Add onto that the disappointment of the electorate who had believed that their council was sticking up for them instead of stabbing them in the back.
        At least my option makes no dishonest promises to anybody and places the blame directly where it belongs – with Tory austerity. You mention Labour capitulating to the Tories but your proposal for councils like Bristol is the worst kind of pseudo-opposition; it just kicks the can down the road, where the problem will be worse.
        You suggest Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t done enough for the electorate to vote for him but, in case you haven’t noticed, Bristol has a Corbyn-supporting Mayor. People voted for him there! People have been voting for Corbyn-supporting candidates in by-elections up and down the country, with vote-share increases in double figures, in some places.
        Yes, people on the ground need to do something different – not councillors; ordinary people. They need to stop voting Conservative.
        That is the only way to stop what’s going on.
        And they won’t stop voting Conservative if you’re filling their heads with dangerous nonsense about Labour.
        In any case, the “something different” you suggested isn’t different at all. It’s a rubbish tactic that only causes trouble in the long run.
        Your question about Labour politicians’ involvement when youngsters are dying due to their treatment by the DWP is, I take it, made in extremely poor humour. Did you not know that a Labour MP raised the issue of David Brown during Prime Minister’s Questions? We have a Conservative government whose benefits policy has been fought, tooth and nail, by Labour. You disgrace yourself by suggesting otherwise. Labour in opposition cannot change Conservative government policy. It could possibly change public opinion but that would require the help of the right-wing media to get Labour’s message out to the people and that isn’t happening. And the Tories also have the help of people like you, of course – blindly shooting your keyboard off about any aspect of the left you think you can criticise, like your comments about McCluskey and the PCS.
        As long as you continue supporting the Tories by spouting this silliness, you are part of the problem. Stop being part of the problem and start doing something useful.
        That is all.

  6. A Grumpy_Old_Man (@Hairyloon)

    What is it about Labour that makes them so polarised?
    It seems they either think Corbyn is the Messiah, else they hate him so much they’ll vote for UKIP in an attempt to get rid of him.

    Is there nobody on the middle ground who can see that it is the division that is destroying the prospect?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Let’s just remind ourselves of the facts about the Labour Party:

      The vast majority of members support Jeremy Corbyn and his policy platform.

      A few dozen MPs don’t.

      Let’s have some perspective, please.

      1. A Grumpy_Old_Man (@Hairyloon)

        A little over 60% of members support Mr Corbyn. That is a sizeable majority, but it falls a long way short of vast, whereas I think we can say that of Labour MP’s it is the vast majority that oppose him.

        But this is beside the point: arguing that the division is inconsequential is exactly the problem I refer to.
        If there are so few that oppose Corbyn then why not just kick them from the party and be done?
        Because that would be most of your MP’s and far too many of the members.
        You need to recognise the problem and find a way to deal with it.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        A little over 60 per cent of members who were allowed to vote in the last leadership election support Mr Corbyn. More than 130,000 were prevented from exercising their vote, and it seems likely that most, if not all, of them would have supported him. He has a huge amount of grassroots support.
        As for MPs – only a few dozen actually have strong opposition to Mr Corbyn and his policies. The others who rebelled with them in June and July were encouraged to do so, most probably with questionable claims that Labour would fare better without him.
        Nobody will be “kicked” from Labour because they oppose Jeremy Corbyn. If you want a party of “yes”-people, go to the Tories. Labour appreciates debate. Sometimes these people will be right, if they are discussing issues, not personalities.
        It seems likely a large number of MPs will be deselected by their constituency party members before the next election, though.
        Any problems have already been recognised and are under control – or will be soon.

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