What’s at stake in Momentum’s NCG election

Momentum needs to build on the past two years, not reverse course – and despite their rhetoric Momentum Organisers seem to agree, argues Cllr Sam Foster

In elections for Momentum’s National Coordinating group, the political differences between two major slates aren’t always obvious. In the 2020 NCG election, the insurgent Forward Momentum pitched their campaign as a project to democratise Momentum, tapping into the rightful anger that members felt at a series of stitch-ups by the then-leadership, such as the ridiculous vote for deputy leader in which Angela Rayner was the only candidate on Momentum’s ballot, and the imposition of a number of parliamentary candidates over the wishes of local Momentum groups.

The incumbent-backed Momentum Renewal followed suit with similar noises about the need for reform and greater internal democracy. The key difference was credibility – FM grew out of meetings with members from across the country and had an open primary to decide its slate, already walking the walk on a member-led approach. Since winning that election, the Forward Momentum candidates on the NCG have largely delivered on what they promised, even if there have been some missteps and delays on the way.

What about the current NCG elections? As before, we have two main campaigns – a continuity slate and a challenger slate. Your Momentum represents the politics and priorities of the outgoing Forward Momentum-led NCG and Momentum Organisers seeks to replace them. There’s a clear difference in rhetoric, as the former group defends the NCG’s record and the latter denounces it as a failure. Looking at the substance of the two plans, however, there’s more common ground you might think – and more than Momentum Organisers might want to admit.

It’s important to stress that both slates have lots of good activists on them, and the new NCG will have elected representatives from both sides on account of the new STV election system. There must be a common commitment for everyone to work together when this is done. And the level of agreement with Your Momentum that’s visible in MO’s plans is really an encouraging sign that this election won’t divide the left.

Beyond their scathing assessment of Momentum’s track record, Momentum Organisers distinguish themselves from YM in putting more emphasis on organising in the Labour Party (in contrast to a ‘one foot in, one foot out’ approach) and less on Momentum’s internal democracy. As they have fleshed out their organising plan, however, it looks less and less like a radical departure from the outgoing NCG and more like building on its work – continuing projects that only exist because of Forward’s victory last time.

This is a welcome development but many of MO’s proposals are already either being done in Momentum right now, or are in development, such as a more clearly focused activist pipeline; developing the Councillor Network around a programme of community wealth building; or focusing the organisation’s communications more on the movement  – in the last twelve months Momentum has started platforming the work of its local groups and activists through its monthly bulletin, the Organiser, and via its social media channels.

This is the central contradiction of Momentum Organisers. They talk about Momentum ‘facing three ways at once’ and going nowhere, and of needing to prioritise, but the programme they have laid out contains commitments to keep in place everything Momentum is now doing under the current NCG and that has been developed in the last two years: the Trade Union Network (albeit rebranded), the Leo Panitch and Future Councillor Programmes, the Community Wealth Building toolkit as a means to build the Councillor Network, even the Policy Primary. The much-discussed Eviction Resistance campaign was wound down well over a year ago, and only ever had minimal staff time put into it – there is nothing to be ‘cut’ there.

Confusingly, Momentum Organisers are simultaneously saying that Momentum isn’t working, but that they’ll continue with everything Momentum is now doing. I think, despite their rhetoric on Momentum being stuck in a cycle of defeat, they do actually know that the current moment places structural limits on what the left can achieve in the Party, and crucially, that the current NCG’s strategy is the right one. They just aren’t saying it.

That strategy is to win where you can in the Party, especially when it comes to national committee elections, such as the NEC or the Young Labour committee, where Momentum has won a string of victories in the two years. But it’s also grounded in a recognition that with the exodus of socialists from the Party in the last two years, there are limits to the size of our forces and the majorities we can build in the CLP section at Conference, for example. So we need to organise around those blockages by assisting our comrades in the trade unions, which have huge bloc votes at Conference, to push their unions left, as Momentum is now doing with its support for the Unison Left.

The other pillar of this strategy is around movement building: supporting our members to develop their organising and strategic skills to be more effective on the ground and in the Party. This is effectively about making the most of what we have, and unleashing the talents of our movement.

Alongside this is a broad commitment to political education, which in times of struggle is the glue that can hold together networks and communities of members who may, for the short-term, be shut out of power in their local or regional Party. It’s also the case that a large number of the people who joined Labour or Momentum in the last few years are new to politics, and need supporting in developing their ideological or organising capacities, which is essential when we cannot all rally round a simple goal of ‘electing Jeremy’.

Momentum has made major steps forward here with its trans, racial, and climate justice programmes of political education – which have been almost exclusively led by volunteers and members, through a process of establishing working groups not dependent on staff support, following the Democratic Socialists of America’s committee model.

In short, the strategy being followed by the current NCG is the right one, and the Your Momentum campaign, which includes a number of incumbents, are open about their commitment to continuing with it, as well as focusing on a renewed organising drive at the CLP level.

Momentum Organisers’ campaigning approach of denouncing Momentum as failing while committing to continuing its core work comes off as narrow electioneering. By contrast, YM is building on the NCG’s established track record of delivering on election promises: the crucial internal democratic reforms, the much-needed resources to local groups, the investment in councillor and union networks, and the swathe of political education programmes. That’s what makes Your Momentum’s pitch the more credible of the two, and that’s why Momentum members should vote for the Your Momentum slate in full.

Sam Foster is a Councillor for Faraday ward in Southwark.

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