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Renewing how we work in the most fundamental way possible

Amid turbulent times for the left Momentum Renewal is laying the groundwork for a fresh approach to politics to escape the malaise which often follows defeat, says JON TRICKETT

STORM clouds are gathering. This political weather forms the political backdrop to the elections for Momentum’s national co-ordinating group.  

Three factors are creating this turbulence for the left.

First is the presence of a deadly virus which is profoundly changing the economic and social environment in which we act. 

If the Tories have their way there will be another round, even worse than the last, of austerity. And we know what that means for the people we wish to represent.

Second, we lost the election. Badly. Right-wing forces in the country moved swiftly to consolidate their position. 

It is ominous that among the lowest paid at the last election there was a higher propensity to vote Tory than among the highest paid.

Third, we lost the leadership of the labour movement. Voices are now being heard which advocate the possibility of a leadership attack on the left. 

The latest was Polly Toynbee in the Guardian this week who speculated about a “clause-four moment.” 

None of this means that the left is bound to lose. Indeed, only socialists can offer a proper resolution to the problems which have been exposed by the coronavirus.  

But in order to consolidate and then move forward, we need to take a moment to reflect and reorganise.

The Momentum election can allow us to do this. The conditions in which the organisation was created have changed totally with the defeat of the Corbyn project. 

This means renewing how we work in the most fundamental way possible.

And our renewal cannot end when the election results are announced next week. 

The present stormy prospects demand that there is left unity when the election is over. 

Yesterday we saw in Labour List the announcement of a new unified formation on the right wing of the labour movement committed to “radical measures” (whatever can they be?) 

We need a democratic revolution in our own structures and practices and we will need to reorient our politics.

I am supporting the Momentum Renewal slate — a slate of which I am a member — and which I believe represents some of the best and most experienced activists from across our movement. 

But a slate is just a list of names unless it also has politics. Renewal therefore commits to the following.

Member involvement in candidate selection

It isn’t good enough that local groups have been left out of the decision-making process and candidates have been agreed between Momentum national office and the unions.

This has been a source of discontent for some local groups who are expected to provide the activists and the manpower to get their candidates selected and elected.  

Point 7 in Renewal’s list of reforms is the inclusion of local groups in the selection of Momentum-backed candidates, to “avoid the farce of groups being at odds with the centre during selections.”

Regular balloting of members

Including members in selections of left candidates is indicative of a wider change which is necessary. 

Momentum Renewal is committed to balloting members on key decisions, such as who we endorse for the leadership and deputy leadership of the Labour Party.

In their reform paper, they also commit to balloting members on campaigning priorities, and over which policies to push at Labour conference. 

This is a huge commitment to transform the day-to-day decision-making of Momentum — putting ordinary members at the heart of decision-making.

If a large organisation like Podemos in Spain can do this, then so can Momentum.

Member-engagement with strategy

Momentum Renewal has committed to a “biennial strategic review,” circulating strategy papers to groups and members and using workshops and debates at Momentum conference and regional conferences.

This is real-time member-engagement, ensuring that the fast-changing situation on the coalface in our branches is reflected in the policy and direction of our organisation.

Accountable NCG members

Momentum Renewal is committed to ensuring that all NCG members should have public email addresses and specific responsibilities for liaising with and meeting local groups. 

In their reform document, Renewal states that under its new plans “every NCG subcommittee, including the officers, should produce standing reports that are made available online as with NCG minutes,” and that “NCG members should be subject to a limit of three consecutive terms.”

A more diverse NCG

The document also commits to strengthening the NCG equalities quotas, particularly regarding the representation of the disabled and LGBT groups. 

This is a commitment mirrored by MRs broad-ranging selection of candidates running on the joint slate.

Working with organisations across the left — campaigning on housing

In her article on housing in Tribune, Momentum Renewal NCG candidate Laura McAlpine has committed to ensuring that Momentum works “hand in glove with groups like Acorn and other renters’ organisations and unions,” bridging the gap “between Labour and the tenant movement.” 

She has committed to making sure that Momentum presses for member-led engagement on the issue of housing and policy to progress through Labour’s policy-making structures — and on these commitments she has the full backing of the Momentum Renewal slate.

Building local branches

Writing for Labour List, Momentum Renewal candidate Huda Elmi has committed to a serious refocusing of Momentum on building our branch and local government presence. 

Momentum should be “leading campaigns on local political issues” and members must “be given the resources and capacity to respond to local events, recruiting new members to Labour and engaging in grassroots campaigns.” 

As part of this, she has committed to providing activist education and training, to help members “navigate Labour’s procedures” and also “learn transferable organisational skills, build confidence and take on local leadership roles in our movement.”

A proper commitment to working with trade unions

Much talk has been given to the importance of working with trade unions through this election — but very little of any depth has been provided to show how beyond broad commitments to engage more. 

Momentum Renewal candidate Lawrence Dunne has committed to beginning the process of properly “mapping trade-union members and providing them support in organising.” 

This may seem basic, but it’s also essential. Momentum can make as many bold statements on engaging with trade unions as it likes, but the reality is they exist and operate in a different manner from an organisation like Momentum. 

Our approaches to the unions need pragmatism and realism — something which Lawrence and others have in spades.

These are just a selection of the concrete commitments on offer from Momentum Renewal.

But there is a wider context to all this. From its inception, the Corbyn project was about building a movement rooted in communities throughout the country and not a traditional top-down hierarchical left structure. 

It was about ending the old sectarianism which has infected the left for decades. 

And it was about having the humility to recognise that we don’t always get it right about every subject. 

So partnership working with other left organisations, and movements such as Black Lives Matter or the drive to save the planet, as well as the trade unions, ought to be at the core of our renewal.

These were the correct principles and Momentum must pioneer new ways of working if we are to escape the malaise which often follows defeat. 

Renewal now can be the opportunity to regain our forward trajectory rather than being cast into permanent minority status. 

If we get this right, the Momentum election process and the new NCG followed by our renewal can be the moment when we turned the corner. 

It is at these moments that we all should recall the old phrase that “the cause of labour is the hope of the world.”

Jon Trickett is Labour MP for Hemsworth.

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