Momentum’s New Beginning: Forward or Renewal?

Following the shock election of Jeremy Corbyn to Labour’s top position in 2015, the organisation Momentum was created primarily to be a defensive vanguard of both his leadership and it’s polices. During Corbyn’s near 5 years of leadership, Momentum played a key role in helping to elect councillors and MPs favourable to Corbyn, pushing for socialist polices at Labour’s conferences and organising crack-teams of volunteers to go out both canvassing and phone banking during the last two general elections. However with the defeat of Corbyn in the 2019 election, the very figure the organisation was created to prop-up, the purpose of Momentum in the post-Corbyn era has been called into question. Initially, the organisation tried to continue business as usual by supporting socialist left-wing Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long Bailey, with Momentum Co-founder and Chairperson of Momentum Jon Lansman advising her, in hopes they she would be able to win and be able to pick up Corbyn’s baton. However, she lost the Labour leadership race to Keir Starmer. With her defeat, the faction of the left Momentum seeks to support are out of power, the very purpose of Momentum has been left unanswered and with Jon Lansman now stepping down as Chairperson, the question has been asked – is it time for Momentum to change and how?

June the 30th is a crucial date in determining Momentum’s future, this date being the closing of the voting period for new candidates to take seats in Momentum’s National Coordinating Group (NCG), the group that will determine Momentum’s strategy, policies and makeup in the post-Corbyn era. Kick-starting this election off on the 7th of April, Momentum’s National Coordinating Group Officers released a statement, stating that “it is clear that Momentum and the left cannot continue as it has been”. In this crucial junction in Momentum’s history multiple groups have sprung up, the main two being Forward Momentum and Momentum Renewal. All of them hoping to influence Momentum’s upcoming NCG elections and thus its future by promoting candidates that best align with their proposals. I managed to get in touch with a few representatives from each of these groups and here’s what they had to say.

Forward Momentum:

Forward Momentum was the first large group after Labour’s defeat in the 2019 general election to come out advocating change in Momentum through its NCG elections, putting forward the view that whilst Momentum “has had many achievements, but over time it has lost its way, it needs to be rebuilt by its members and it needs a new purpose”. The person I spoke to who hopes to be part of the team taking part in Momentum Reconstruction was Andrew Scattergood, who is running with three other Forward Momentum candidates who are hoping to win the Midlands and East seats on the Momentum NCG.

1) How did you come to join Forward Momentum? And why?

I have been a Momentum supporter since its inception and admired the work it has done for many years, but linking in with other local groups I have seen first-hand the lack of central support given to local groups, and the confusion and sometimes conflict this causes. It seemed to me utterly wrong and unnecessary for Momentum to operate this way, so when I was approached by Forward Momentum to contribute to the campaign, I recognised a lot of the frustrations they were talking about. I was impressed with the democratic campaign that they wanted to put together. I gave this some serious thought as I had almost given up on Momentum, but after a few conversations, I was happy and keen to be involved – and excited about what the future for Momentum could be.

2) What would you say Forward Momentum is?

When something is wrong, whether in wider society or within an organisation, like-minded individuals come together to put forward a different answer to the problems faced and campaign for change. This is what the labour movement does best. Forward Momentum is a campaign to put forward a positive vision of what Momentum can be and has sought to involve as many members in that discussion, and in the campaign, as possible. What has emerged is a democratic and time-limited campaign that has put together a set of proposals for refounding Momentum. Both the proposals and the slate for the NCG elections have been formed by members of Momentum for members of Momentum. The five key priorities which we are proposing and that we are committed to are: to unite the socialist left and transform the Labour Party; to refound Momentum and put members in charge; to build power in our workplaces and communities; to give more control to local groups, the regions and the nations; and to fight for a just and green response to the Covid crisis.

3) How closely does Forward Momentum work with the trade unions?

The trade union movement is the backbone of the Labour Party. Too many on the right of the party have forgotten this or would prefer it not to be. But it isn’t just those on the right of the party at fault; Momentum itself has not engaged or worked with trade unions (or perhaps more importantly rank and file trade unionists) in the way that it should have. Forward Momentum has begun to show how that should work and how it can be different. We have many trade unionists not only active within our campaign but also standing on our slate. I am one of those. We have held meetings with trade unions and trade unionists to discuss how the relationship between Momentum and the trade unions should be, and how we should not just be encouraging trade union membership but encouraging activism within the trade union movement. To achieve greater engagement with trade unions, Momentum should be linking in with their campaigns and supporting their disputes, and in our plan to change Momentum, we have committed to establishing a Momentum trade unionists’ network, with a focus on developing and sharing organising skills. This network will have an elected full-time officer tasked with its growth and coordinating with unions at both local and national levels.

4) Do you think Forward Momentum has a future after the NCG elections?

As I have said, we are a time-limited campaign, so after the NCG elections Forward Momentum will cease to exist. We are not aiming to create a faction within Momentum and to reinforce confidence in that, Forward Momentum must have a clear end. We hope to have a high level of success in the NCG elections which would mean a lot of Forward Momentum candidates winning an NCG seat. We will be very conscious that members voted for us primarily because of the platform we are standing on, so although the Forward Momentum campaign will be no more, the priorities and pledges we are arguing for will continue and we aim to implement every single one.

5) Does Momentum Internationalists work with you at all?

Momentum Internationalists are not part of the Forward Momentum campaign. This was another campaign set up by people unconnected to Forward Momentum that was designed to influence and change the debate and although I don’t agree on everything MI was putting forward, a lot of it was valid and important. I welcome all points of view from the left, even those I do not necessarily agree with, because the more debate that can be had, the better the outcome will always be. We have been far too sectarian on the left for far too long and nobody has the right to decide who is on the ‘correct’ left or not. You don’t have to agree on everything, and politics does matter, but if we are to truly unify the left, then all sides of the debate must be heard.

6) What do you hope the future of Momentum looks like? 

I am genuinely excited about the future not just of Momentum, but of the Labour left. The last few years have seen some of our highest moments, but also some of our lowest. We certainly find ourselves at the lowest for a long time but there are some heart-warming signs that the movement is on the up. The hundreds of conversations (online of course) that I have been having with members has shown a real change over the last few weeks; the left is getting its bounce back. There seems to be a genuine desire not to make the same mistakes and to rebuild the left stronger and more united. Momentum can play a massive role in this; the future Momentum can be more outward-looking, democratic and member-led. Momentum can change, but it’s up to all of us to see that happen, and this change starts with the NCG elections.

7) What makes Forward Momentum different from Momentum Renewal?

Although there are similarities and agreement between both campaigns, some major differences are worth stating. Forward Momentum has put together a strong set of grassroots candidates to stand in the NCG through democracy. Our open primaries were ground-breaking and demonstrated that it is possible to choose candidates through democracy and member participation, so that they are truly representative of the grassroots. We held dozens of meetings with hundreds of members and held an inclusive and democratic debate on what our priorities should be. This has produced a campaign platform that I am confident reflects the priorities of Momentum members. Momentum Renewal has approached this very differently by handpicking their slate, which includes a significant number of public office holders standing in what I believe should be grassroot member seats.

While there are committed socialists on Momentum Renewal’s slate, their policy platform is basically a copy and paste, watered down version of parts of ours, and with very little detail. It should be fairly clear for Momentum members that out of the two campaigns Forward Momentum has done the actual thinking, listening and hard work of reaching out to come up with our policy platform. If you want to see Momentum change and you don’t want to see more of the same, then Forward Momentum is who you should be voting for.

Momentum Renewal:

Similarly to Forward Momentum, Momentum Renewal’s main purpose is to contest the upcoming NCG elections. In its founding statement the group said: “Our platform for transforming Momentum to make it truly fit for purpose. Democratic, member-led and organised, Momentum Renewal will be rooted in working-class communities, which founded our party and which must be its heartland.” With goals to empower local Momentum groups, give members more democratic control over Momentum and have a more responsible and accountable NCG. I spoke to Dan Roberts who is one of four Momentum Renewal candidates running in the Midlands and the East region. (Disclaimer Dan is an editor for Worcestershire Transformed but had no input in the editing of this article other than of his own words in this interview).

1) How did you join Momentum Renewal? And why?

I was a late addition to the Renewal slate due to a candidate dropping out but I have been a supporter of the group since its inception. They are supported by a number of influential and important figures on Britain’s left and offer a comprehensive vision in terms of how through reforming Momentum and the Labour Party we can reform society.

2) What would you say Momentum Renewal is? 

We truly represent the interests of the trade union and labour movement across the UK and want to see Momentum become a truly member led organisation which organises the left in the Labour Party and in our communities. We are in our very founding a reaction to the 2019 General Election loss and the subsequent election of Keir Starmer as leader. Clearly the left made mistakes under Corbyn and with each passing day Starmer seems hellbent on moving us away from that radical vision. Momentum Renewal is set up to unite the left to ensure Momentum holds the leadership’s feet to the fire in terms of Labour policy; to build true working class power in our communities to fight various oppressions; and to build the mass movement required to defeat the Tories at the ballot box.

3) How closely does Momentum Renewal work with the Trade Unions? 

Extremely closely and you clearly see that from just glancing at our candidates who come from a number of different Trade Unions. We have candidates that were pivotal in organising the McStrike for McDonalds workers, there are various Trade Union branch activists and we have the  former political secretary of CWU Scotland (to name a few).

The Labour Party is the political wing of the Trade Union movement and was created by our Trade Unions. Momentum Renewal wants Momentum to create stronger links with our unions so together we can continue to remind Labour Party politicians of that fact whilst also working to organise the working class of the UK.

4) Do you think there’s a future for Momentum Renewal after the NCG elections? 

Right now we are just focused on getting as many of the amazing socialist activists from our slate elected. After the NCG elections the left needs unity to ensure that we can defeat the enemy that opposes and oppresses us everyday.

5) What do you hope the future of Momentum looks like?

I want Momentum to be the truly member-led organisation that it was originally founded to be. With almost 30,000 members there is a significant role for this organisation to play within the UK left and wider society.

We are currently facing the biggest recession this country has ever seen due to the pandemic. Despite not causing this crisis (and actually keeping the country going during it) the working class of this country will be forced to again unjustly pay to get the economy moving again. Now more than ever we need groups that are willing to organise in our communities to rise up and start the fight back against what is to come. I want Momentum to look like an organisation that can rise to that challenge, particularly if the current Labour Leadership is unwilling to do so. 

6) What makes Momentum Renewal different from Forward Momentum?

I am genuinely of the belief there are good socialists on both slates and both sets of candidates will agree what we need after this NCG election is unity.

What sets us apart from Forward Momentum is that we truly looked at some of the great things Momentum have done and we want to magnify that. A fellow candidate Dave Aldwinkle wrote about this brilliantly for Labour List. Despite talk about moving away from how Momentum worked previously, Forward Momentum simply did not speak to the local Momentum groups that have done so much amazing work over the last few years. Take Manchester Momentum, whose committee were not contacted in Forward Momentum’s consultation process, who have completely reinvented the wheel in terms of how to recruit activists, how to engage in political education and what building socialist institutions in the community actually looks like.

We want to move away from a London-centric model that Momentum previously operated under and give more power, resources and autonomy to local groups like Leeds & Manchester Momentum who are genuinely building organised working class power in those communities. This is exemplified by our commitment to move the Momentum offices away from London and to the North of England.

On Tuesday the 16th of June elections for Momentums NCG began and as of now, are ongoing until the 30th of June.

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