Thoughts on finding a positive way forward after the Momentum NC

For a discussion document on the kind of Labour left we need and the future of Momentum which we have just published, by Maria Exall, see here. For another by Lewis Bassett, see here.

For a report of the NC meeting by one of the Momentum NC LGBT reps, Josie Runswick, which explains what was agreed and passed in some detail (including text of motions), see here.

For another report by Northern regional delegate Ed Whitby, see here.

By Michael Chessum, Momentum Steering Committee member

This Saturday, Momentum’s national committee met – for the first time in 6 months, and after a number of delays and cancellations – to discuss, primarily, the arrangements, content and composition for the Momentum’s founding conference in February. The process was fractious and marginal, with most votes passing with majorities of 1, 2 or 3 in a room of 60 people.

The outcome was a dramatic reassertion of the National Committee’s original conception of conference from when it originally decided to hold one at its last meeting back in May. Since then, the Steering Committee (basically Momentum’s executive) had prevented the NC from meeting and, in a meeting called at less than 24 hours’ notice in October, declared that February’s conference would in fact be a livestreamed national debate, with voting then taking place online.

Following this Saturday’s meeting, it is now Momentum’s local activist groups – not online platforms and voting systems – that will form the basis for how motions are submitted and decisions made. E-balloting will still be used to give representation to members not in groups, but it will then be the delegates that do the voting. There was only one vote on which the Steering Committee got its way – its own existence. Perversely, while overturning everything the Steering Committee had done over the summer, the NC voted (29-30) not to elect a fresh one.

As someone who sits on the Steering Committee and has fought in a minority against many of its decisions, I ought to be celebrating. A face to face deliberative process like a delegate conference does make much more sense than an online vote when it comes to discussing complex constitutional proposals. And holding a delegate conference does not preclude a constitution which includes, or is even based on, online voting.

However, the sharp division, both in the room and the wider organisation, have left me feeling uneasy. Compromise proposals for mixed conference processes, one of which I proposed, garnered either no votes or a handful of votes. The room was split down the middle, with neither side willing to budge, even when it became clear that one of them (the pro-online democracy group) was in a minority.

The Steering Committee has to accept the lion’s share of the responsibility for the polarisation of the room. By bypassing and undermining the national committee – a body to which it was technically subordinate – the Steering Committee substantially overreached its mandate and infuriated grassroots activists. As a result, attitudes hardened and the regional delegates, who make up a majority of the NC, almost all arrived mandated to vote for a purely delegate based conference.

But we all have to take responsibility for what comes next. Momentum is maybe the broadest organisation on the British left other than the Labour Party itself, and it has the potential to transform politics. Its constitution and long term future cannot be “settled” with a 51% mandate, with half of the organisation having rallied to a polar opposite proposal. Both ‘sides’ of the national committee seemed content to try to settle questions in this manner on Saturday.

A split in Momentum remains very unlikely. What is much more likely, if no compromise can be found in terms of how Momentum is structured and how it organises, is the kind of paralysis from which the organisation has suffered on a national level over the past few months. While local groups have done brilliant work and Momentum-backed campaigns and projects have flourished, we have spent our time arguing over the minutiae of internal processes. This is, to use a technical term, Mickey Mouse politics – and it needs to stop.

Three things need to happen in order for it to stop.

First, the decisions of the national committee must be respected and implemented – anything else will lead to chaos.

Second, a coalition needs to build around a mixed system of decision making which a large majority of the organisation can support and live with.

Finally, between now and February, Momentum must turn outwards. The wrangle over conference should now be over; but as Hard Brexit falters the battle for the country is just beginning, and a general election may be just around the corner.

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com

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2 Comments

  1. A very measured and appropriate position, Michael. The emphasis on the good work that Momentum groups are doing across the country is the right one.

    I’m pleased to see someone else advocate finding a consensus on internal question so we can focus on turning outwards.

    Like

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