Brian Standish reports from the March 25th Momentum Conference in Birmingham.
It was well attended – probably about 500 people and it was standing room only in the plenary sessions as a good proportion of the venue was taken up with stalls of varying degrees of interest. These included Momentum Councillors, Momentum NHS, The World Transformed and some local Momentum groups alongside Cuba Solidarity, Morning Star, Red Pepper, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) and the Stop War Coalition.
The opening plenary had a speaker from London Podemos. She was very good, but perhaps labouring under the misapprehension that Momentum represented a similar kind of formation. I think this contradiction lives in the heads of many Momentum members- seeing themselves as part of a social movement whilst being part of an organisation structurally wedded to the Labour Party and quite tightly controlled.
John McDonnell’s opening speech also made much of the ‘social movement’ angle and he was also rightly proud of his role, alongside Jeremy Corbyn, in making the Labour Party officially an anti-austerity party. However, that was the real elephant in the room throughout the day: the Labour Party may now make the case that austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity, and vote against Tory measures in Parliament but in practice it is ‘business as usual’ with Labour councilors required to implement the cuts.
This is an issue which Momentum must address in future if it is to maintain its radical social-movement credentials but it is an issue which would lead directly to a head on collision with the Labour right entrenched in local government.
None of the workshops touched directly on this thorny question- the nearest to a session on campaigning against Tory austerity measures was the one on defending the NHS.
The workshops were mostly about getting new members engaged with LP structures and enthusing people to attend meetings and go door knocking (all essential if we are to rebuild democracy in the Labour Party and wrest back control from the right) Other sessions took up arguments around Brexit, combating racism and opposing Trump and how we take those arguments into wider society.
The most useful workshops were the ones which facilitated a horizontal dialogue between comrades from different areas with widely varying experiences of their local CLPs and Momentum groups.
Whilst it has been noted before that Momentum has a more youthful profile than much of the left, I was struck by the number of people in the 30 – 45ish age bracket getting back into active politics. This is the political generation turned off the Labour Party in the Blair years. Many of them, like myself, may have been through the experiences of the Socialist Alliance, Respect, and Left Unity. Some will have been in the Greens, and now they are returning to the Labour Party to win it back.
The divorce between “Grassroots” Momentum and “Official” Momentum now appears complete- no-one was talking about it on the conference floor, no-one was leafleting about it and it seems like ancient history.
Comrades associated with Grassroots Momentum, and the LRC were conspicuous by their absence- I think this is a mistake.
However much we may deplore the way in which the leadership of Momentum launched an undemocratic coup against the membership the fact remains that we have a movement that is bigger than anything else on the left, younger and more enthusiastic, despite all the limitations being placed upon it. This is something we need to relate to- there is still a baby sloshing around in the bathwater.