The future of Momentum

A FEW DAYS AGO, I launched a petition proposing a positive vision for the future of Momentum and asking that we, the ordinary members, be directly consulted on the future of the organisation. After over 2,300 signatures and support from members of the Shadow Cabinet, Jeremy Corbyn himself has stepped in to explain his vision and give us a voice in deciding what Momentum should look like. This is a victory for Momentum’s grassroots members, but the work doesn’t stop here. We need to prove that our vision for the future of Momentum is one which we can all unite around. A Momentum made up of autonomous local groups, with a fully democratic, one-member-one-vote structure is what we need to reinvigorate the British left and take the fight to the Tories in 2017.

It’s worth thinking about how we got into this situation. When Momentum was being set up, an entirely unelected, temporary National Committee decided to follow the traditional organising patterns that we already have in the Labour Party and trade unions: a bureaucratic hierarchy of delegates and committees. This decision was cemented last week when the National Committee decided to hold a delegate conference which will decide on Momentum’s “structure, policy and strategy”. As if by force of habit Momentum has set off down a road which many members never wanted and which we now feel powerless to stop.

When I joined Momentum I was already a member of the Labour Party but Momentum offered a space to do the kinds of things that the Labour Party doesn’t always concentrate on. The Labour Party exists to win elections and with that as its priority other things understandably fall by the wayside. Momentum can instead focus on acting as a platform for local campaigns, working with local food shares and charities as well as with national groups like Keep Our NHS Public. Freed from the necessity of deciding on policy and voting through complex motions, local Momentum groups have the autonomy to engage in really creative activism and that is what makes them exciting.

That’s not to say that Momentum can not also be a useful in elections. In a recent council by-election in Queenstown the whole of Battersea Labour Party came together in an amazing campaign with many local Momentum members out campaigning every night. We had fantastic turn out with nearly 200 people out on the day helping to remind people about the election and we managed to deliver a 10% swing and a new Labour councillor.

The grassroots campaigning and electability can go hand in hand. Labour needs to win back people’s trust across the country and important way of doing that is by demonstrating that local groups care about their communities. For too long people have been complaining that they only hear from us during elections and they have been right. Momentum can be part of changing that. By fighting hard on local issues and joining in local campaigns Momentum can help to re-embed the Labour Party in the community. We used to be able to rely on unions for those kind of grassroots connections and I hope that unions will play that role again in the future. But social movements like Momentum can be another part of it. Momentum Stockport are a great example of this. They helped win a fantastic by-election in Crewe, pushing UKIP into third place, but have also been involved with countless local campaigns and charities.

The other side of this vision of Momentum is about engaging people in politics. Until 2001 turn out in a general election had never been below 71%, since then we’ve struggled to get over 65%. That 5% difference is over two million lost voters. In the wake of the expenses scandal, Labour’s reluctance to oppose austerity and Brexit’s rejection of experts we need to try to re-engage people in politics. And that needs to start at the grassroots because it is personal participation in politics than really empowers people and communities. Momentum has done amazing work on this front, bringing people into politics who have never been involved before. Momentum Kids set out to open up political spaces by providing cooperative childcare at events so as not to exclude women and mothers. This made The World Transformed a much more diverse space than the rest of the Labour Party conference and is exactly the sort of open and inclusive atmosphere we should be encouraging everywhere.

Generating enthusiasm and commitment for politics is hard because campaigning is hard work. But that’s why Momentum needs to ensure that it’s barriers to entry are as low as physically possible. Boring delegate meetings are more than just a turn-off, they actively exclude people with disabilities, caring responsibilities or unpredictable shift work. We should be doing our utmost to get everyone from our local communities engaged in politics and use Momentum as a stepping stone into the Labour Party or a Trade Union. Many of people I have met through my local group are getting involved in formal politics for the first time and Momentum is a space which can encourage and support them. But for as long as we are fighting our own internal battles, people will see us as just another political space which “is not for them”.

Fundamentally Momentum is not a political party. It doesn’t need to decide on policy or elect delegates to higher structures. Local groups would be better off building direct links with each other, creating a network through which they can share ideas, best practice and expertise. They don’t need regional delegate structures to enable them to do that. There are a huge number of Momentum supporters who feel alienated and worried by the NC’s decision. This petition is about bringing them together and showing that we want our voices to be heard. Momentum has the potential to revitalise left wing politics in England. And to do that we need to stick to what made it so exciting at the start: local, friendly and pluralistic grassroots activism.

— Matteo Tiratelli

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