Welcome to the left
The thing about momentum, is that it has to be sustained. You can’t restart momentum; if something is slowing down it’s decelerating, with inertia the ultimate conclusion.
The thing about Momentum, is that there’s absolutely no surprise it is decelerating. It was at best a bad idea, at worst a malevolent ploy, from the offing.
There are those who say that Jeremy Corbyn’s doubters – yes, plotters before you scream it at me – had it in for him from day one. Well, they’re right, but I think they might have the wrong day in mind. From the day Momentum was set up, he lost all hope of ever winning some people back. Because they could foresee precisely what is now happening.
The wisdom – and motivation – to allow to thrive a movement fundamentally at odds with the Labour Party in Parliament was questionable to say the very least. The fact that Corbyn gave his blessing to an organisation which set itself up on an ‘Us vs Them’ platform, with ‘Them’ being the Labour Party, didn’t fill us with much hope. Nor did a rival event held at the same time as Conference, designed to physically sort the ‘them’ from the ‘us’.
But most reckless of all, was to willingly open the door to the sectarianism of the hard left tribes. Who, liberated from the task of having to even fight an election, have spent years tearing each other down over largely miniscule differences and individual mistrusts. Just look at the latest dirty-laundry airing at the top of Momentum. I suppose it was always going to happen when the National Committee actually met in person, after seven months of avoiding itself.
On the surface it’s about administration: who should vote at a national conference which may or may not happen, and may or may not be held purely online; how people should vote, and dozens of even less noteworthy procedural spats.
But this row is not really about procedure; it’s about a deep-rooted paranoia and an insoluble level of mistrust between mutually suspicious tribes. It’s about who controls Momentum and decides policy (if ever). The technical stuff may get resolved, at least superficially and for the sake of not losing any more face. But the tribalism and mistrust will remain. The back-biting, bullying, resentment and shouting and tears in meetings will go on – perhaps it’s for the best that the NC doesn’t meet very often.
It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, but it has appalled new Momentum and Labour members. The ones who stood in crowded fields screaming for Jeremy back in the Summer, who are now sitting aghast, reading about this and, in some cases, seeing it first-hand. The ones who joined without being conscious of the last time a party was created to unite the hard Left, only to succumb to the back-biting, bullying, resentment and paranoia. Back then it was the George Galloway crew and Respect (the inaptly named Unity Coalition), leading to a bitter SWP eventually splitting off to form Left Alliance then Left List. (Respect, Left Alliance and Left List are all now defunct, by the way).
In short: S.O.S (Same. Old. Story).
But there’s one big difference between Respect et al and Momentum: this incarnation of the hard left’s seething resentment is directly linked to the Labour Party, and endorsed by our leader in Parliament. Like ivy growing up the side of a tree, Momentum has taken some undefined exterior role in Labour politics. It acts outside of the party, yet anything Momentum does reflects on Labour. Every crossed word, acidic blog, furious social media exchange and ludicrously overheated procedural schism, erodes the reputations of both Momentum and the Labour Party, turns thousands of tentative supporters off both, and gives the Conservatives a confidence boost.
Of all the sordid political euphemisms of our day, perhaps the one I love to hate the most means, in plain English: ‘we’re screwed’. It goes something like, ‘We must not underestimate the scale of the challenge’, and it’s being used a lot at the moment. As a Labour member not part of Momentum it’s depressing beyond words to think of the scale of the challenge we face.
Let’s also not underestimate how evanescent political support can be. How easily in an age of virtual reality politics it can be to switch or simply forget allegiance to an organisation that requires no physical interaction, no membership fees and, crucially, no commitment to the mucky business of making Labour an electoral force. Quite the opposite: it urges members to think of themselves above that whole shabby process.
In typical fashion, months too late, the mainstream lefty writers (see below) have realised that they’ve been ignoring reality for the sake of leftwing populism, and are now covering their backs. (Or they’ve had their private moments exposed). Now the revised line – inching towards reality – is that Momentum should stay but the divisive ‘elements’ need to be eradicated to save the movement. Well, good luck with that. Don’t underestimate the scale of the challenge.
Jeremy Corbyn deserves credit for attracting huge numbers to a grass-roots movement. He deserves severe censure for helping to create a movement designed to undermine Labour and likely one day, split off from it. Perhaps the only faint hope is that so few people have heard of Momentum outside political-obsessive circles. And far fewer will be able to stomach it, now that this latest attempt to unite the un-unitable has got so hideous.
Ironically, while Momentum is imploding, Corbyn seems to have found some kind of feet in Parliament. He’s there now, and he’s sort of getting the hanging of it. Maybe it’s because he’s been willing to compromise at least on a cosmetic level. One day he might make a compromise too far and that could be it for him when it comes to Momentum; far stranger things have happened. Welcome to the Left.