Your Momentum – A strategy to build left power

By Mish Rahman

Over the last two years the Labour left has faced enormous challenges. General Election and Labour Leadership defeats were followed by the barriers to mass organising thrown up by COVID-19, and Keir Starmer has spent the time since trying to drive socialists out of the Party.

Momentum – led by members elected as part of the Forward Momentum campaign two years ago – has been at the forefront of attempting to hold the Labour left together against these attacks. I was part of the last National Coordinating Group and am now part of a new campaign – Your Momentum – standing for election to lead Momentum for the next two years.

Because of the newly introduced Single Transferable Vote system within Momentum elections, both of the two main slates in this Momentum leadership election – Your Momentum and Momentum Organisers – will have a considerable number of members elected, so it’s important that we conduct ourselves in the most comradely way possible, and work to come together around a common programme afterwards. 

Before laying out how the Your Momentum candidates plan to build power with Momentum over the next few years, it is worth addressing some of the criticisms that have been levelled at what Momentum has done over the last two years. Because while the vast majority of candidates standing for Your Momentum have never been on the NCG, a number are re-standing incumbents and our campaign as a whole is supportive and proud of the last NCG’s record. Furthermore, most of the criticisms that have been made lack substance and reveal serious weaknesses in Momentum Organisers’ apparent plan for Momentum. Getting the next two years right means properly understanding the past two years.

The narrative laid out by a candidate of Momentum Organisers in their recent article for Labour Hub is basically that Momentum has been too distracted with extra-Parliamentary organising and internal democracy and as a result the left has gone backwards in the Party. The article also argues for an apparently new approach which includes “defending the left and gaining power – power in key institutions and locations, power we can wield”, “properly resourcing local and parliamentary selections”, uniting “the grassroots left and pursuing a common Labour left strategy across the grassroots, the Socialist Campaign Group and the unions”, and prioritising “objectives that build local bases of power and/or improve the overall strategic balance of forces.” The article also argues for focusing on rule-changes at Labour Conference and not neglecting the NEC. 

Of course, these are all worthwhile objectives, but without detail on what and how, these phrases risk being meaningless. What is not meaningless is the work of Momentum in precisely these areas in the last two years, but that apparently is not worth mentioning. This has been real, substantive work that has helped build the Labour left, even if, as must be said, the left and Momentum have stalled and suffered defeats in areas also. This work provides the basis of an ongoing programme that Your Momentum candidates are committed to continuing and improving. So let’s look at it in detail.

Firstly, far from “neglecting the NEC”, Momentum has worked with allies to win a majority in the CLP section of the NEC (STV limits the total number of seats the left can win) and we have used that representation to challenge the leadership, to work with the trade unions on key votes, and to get socialists onto key panels, influencing decisions. We’ve also “defended and gained power….in key institutions and locations”, winning a majority on the Women’s Committee and on the National Young Labour Committee, as well as on the Conference Arrangements Committee and the less influential National Policy Forum. The idea that this is a “losing cycle” does not stack up.  

Further, through the hard work of members, staff and NCG members, we put hundreds of hours into calling left wing contacts in every CLP and as a result did manage to organise effectively to build repeated majorities in the CLP section at the last Labour Conference – passing a raft of socialist policies that we can use to pressure the leadership and politically educate, as well as a rule change placing power over selections in the hands of local parties – though it is true we did lose an important vote on the change to the number of nominations required to get on the ballot for a leadership contest. 

But how should we respond to this lost vote? Momentum Organisers are offering fighting rhetoric and promising to “strain every sinew” to win in future. But it is just not credible for Momentum Organisers to say, without giving any detail of an actual plan or strategy, that they could have ‘organised harder’ and achieved a different result, especially when we consider the overriding context of tens of thousands of socialists leaving the Party. 

What we can and have done is act strategically, by accepting the limits on how big a majority we can build in the CLP section at Conference in this current moment, and turning our attention to the trade unions, some of which were crucial in supporting Starmer in passing this rule change and form a key part of his governing coalition in the Party. Key to this is UNISON, so for the last 12 months we’ve been working with Time for Real Change – the organised left in UNISON – by providing infrastructure and organising advice, identifying candidates, and promoting their slates. We are also proud that the newly elected Vice President of UNISON, Amerit Rait, is standing on the Your Momentum slate, and if elected, the relationship between the UNISON left and Momentum will be stronger than ever. 

The long-term aim here is to support a shift in UNISON to the left – and along with it the 25 percent of the block vote that they hold in the affiliates section at Conference. This is a strategic response to the current moment, that focuses our energies where we can actually make ground and builds the alliances necessary to do so. Simply saying we need to organise better, and avoiding difficult questions about the current limits of our power, while missing the real opportunities for change, won’t cut it. It’s wishful thinking.

Your Momentum’s plan for the next two years is based on the principle that with strategic, patient and determined organising we can shift the balance of power in the Labour Party and we can achieve victories for socialist politics. Here are some of our key ideas for the next two years:

Firstly, we’ll lead a new drive for members to organise in CLPs with a long-term strategy for growing on the ground. And we’ll embed hundreds of newly elected socialist councillors into our growing councillor network, so that they have the resources and training to put socialist politics into action at the local level. Momentum recently launched a community wealth building toolkit for councillors across the country, and we have a plan for how to support councillors in areas where Labour is in opposition, or where the left is in a minority, to achieve meaningful wins for socialist politics.

Secondly, after months of careful preparation and relationship building, Momentum is now ready to get socialists selected in some target parliamentary seats. As we know from Starmer’s efforts to block a number of soft left candidates from shortlists over the last few weeks, it will be extremely challenging to get socialists selected and we will not win in every contest. But we have identified places where we believe we can win and if Your Momentum candidates are elected to the NCG, this will be our immediate priority.

We’ll also keep organising to win important internal Labour elections and we’ll run campaigns to build support for socialist ideas and politics, politically educating and drawing dividing lines with a leadership drifting rightwards. In line with this strategy, right now we are campaigning to push Labour MPs to back the RMT strikes, which have had opposition from Starmer’s leadership despite broad public support, and we are working hard to ensure that no MP is able to sit on the fence on this issue.

Over the next two years, we’ll build on this and work with trade unions, the Socialist Campaign Group and social movements to campaign for socialist solutions to the cost of living and climate crises, channelling growing social unrest to shift Labour’s position and supporting the growing demand for a new social contract. 

Finally, we will continue to ensure that Momentum members are linking up with trade unions by establishing networks for rank and file members across the country, focused on supporting local union struggles and getting people active in their workplaces and unions, as part of our emerging Momentum trade unionist network, while also strengthening our relationships with existing trade union lefts to support their organising. This will be absolutely crucial to shifting the balance in the party, especially when we think of UNISON’s critical role in propping up the current Labour leadership’s agenda. 

The future of Momentum is crucial to the future of the UK left. The stakes are too high for any of us to shy away from an honest assessment of the constraints of the current moment, or to put hopes in quick fixes and shortcuts to success. Where Momentum Organisers offer fighting talk and vague promises, we have a track record and concrete proposals for building on it. What’s more, we have a set of candidates who are walking the walk, not just talking the talk. The challenges we face are enormous – over the next few years we must build our power strategically and carefully to tackle them.

You can find out more about the Your Momentum campaign on their website: http://www.yourmomentum.org

Mish Rahman Is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

Image: Mish Rahman, c/o Labour Outlook

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