- Reuters/Darren Staples
- Momentum now has 27,000 members and is dominating Labour’s party conference in Brighton. The organisation has been criticised after launching an attempt to stop the Labour conference discussing motions about Brexit. Labour’s National Executive Committee has passed plans to make it easier for a left-wing successor to Corbyn to be elected. Left-wing activists have won seats on the influential Conference Arrangements Committee. A veteran Labour MP tells Business Insider that Momentum wants to “capture the party.”
BRIGHTON – As Labour delegates meet for their party conference in Brighton, the supremacy of the Jeremy Corbyn-backing Momentum group is highly apparent. Its fringe meetings are spread across several venues and are massively oversubscribed with queues for some events going around the block.
By contrast events organised by more centrist groups in the party are much more sparsely attended. As one centrist Labour delegate explained to Business Insider: “The cool kids are all over at Momentum.”
Nowhere has this shift in power been more apparent than in the debate on Sunday over excluding a vote on Brexit at conference.
The result inevitably upset pro-EU voices in the party.
Labour MP Alison McGovern, who is head of moderate Labour group Progress, told a fringe event that she was “gutted that our debate didn’t get through. I worry that it’s going to mean that our party isn’t going to be able to consider the biggest issue facing us for a generation.”
Labour MP Heidi Alexander also attacked the decision tweeting that the party would now become a “laughing stock” for avoiding a vote on the issue.
However, while the decision was controversial, it also prevented a vote that would undoubtedly have overshadowed the entire conference and is a clear sign of the new power and professionalism of Momentum.
As one leading Momentum figure told Business Insider “the left of the party will come into power effectively at this conference.”
“What you’re going to see is the left walking it in a lot of ways, we’re doing much, much better in terms of delegate elections,” Michael Chessum, a Labour activist and former Momentum treasurer told BI.
“Centrists are sort of standing down because they’ve lost their moral authority.”
- Getty Images/Christopher Furlong
Not everyone is convinced by the rise of Momentum. One veteran Labour MP told Business Insider that the “primary objective of Momentum is to capture the party.”
John Spellar, MP for Warley, said: “Momentum’s main role isn’t so much to do with elections, their main focus is capturing a very successful brand.”
But even critics of the group now accept that it holds a central position in the party.
Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) recently approved leader Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for a review into democracy within the party and to reduce the threshold number of MPs that leadership candidates need to get nominated, to 10%. This has only increased Momentum’s power in an increasingly left-wing party, by making it easier for left-wing MPs – who may not have much support among their moderate colleagues – to get on the ballot.
Corbyn supporters also won in the Conference Arrangement Committee (CAC) elections, which decides what is debated at conference.
Momentum supported Billy Hayes and Seema Chandwani for election to the CAC with lead organiser Rachel Godfrey Wood telling BI it is “really important” to have representatives that “respect the rights of members” – members that are increasingly left-wing.
The organisation also played a key role in the surprise result for the party in June’s general election results, where Labour gained 30 seats despite predictions of disaster for the party.
- Leon Neal / Getty
The result included winning seats such as Canterbury, where a Labour MP was previously unthinkable, and credit has been given to the left of the party for their work, using tools like “My Nearest Marginal“.
The group have announced plans to build on their work by holding mass training sessions to help Labour gain power and make activists better at campaigning in marginal constituencies that the party must win to have a majority.
Momentum has also started an “#Unseat” campaign with Guardian writer Owen Jones, where the group will hold huge canvassing sessions in marginal seats to target high-profile Conservatives such as Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith and Amber Rudd.
Rachel Godfrey Wood, a lead organiser for Momentum, told BI: “I think across the Labour party a lot of people are changing their views on Momentum … if you look at for example Sarah Jones who’s now the MP for Croydon Central, she’s not a Momentum supporter, but she acknowledged the incredible role that a lot of Momentum activists played in the last election.”
Labour leader Corbyn is now clearly established in his position as leader, as is Momentum as a fixture inside the party.
Ash Sarkar, senior editor at Novara Media, one of the new wave of left-wing media outlets, told BI that: “For Momentum to get on the front foot and show that it is an intensely good campaigning organisation of the election is good because we can finally get over the infighting in Labour. To see that positive step was really revivifying.”
“It was like 1983 in reverse”
When the election was called, opinion polls had Labour on only 25%, with the Conservatives on 46%. The shock result gave the Tories 42.3% of the vote, resulting in 317 seats; and Labour had 40% of the vote with 262 seats.
Chessum said: “I thought we were going to be absolutely mauled. It was an enormous achievement, it was like 1983 in reverse. Radical ideas and the left are electable and we’ve just shown it, and there’s no going back from that.”
Corbyn faced his second leadership challenge last summer, and as recently as May leading columnists were saying Corbyn would lead the Labour Party to electoral annihilation.
Godfrey Wood said: “There was incredible negativity surrounding the image of the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum, and in spite of that the message of radical change actually did cut through and unleashed levels of support that a lot of people had thought were not really feasible for the Labour party.”
The Momentum organiser is confident of where the organisation can take Labour next: “Regardless of when the election comes, we’ll be ready for it and we’ll be in a very strong position because we’ll have a very strong policy programme, a very strong activist base and the more time goes on the more that you’ve got different people in Momentum looking at different ways of campaigning more effectively.”
- Getty Images/Christopher Furlong
Momentum still has work to do to convince all
The group still has its critics, with some believing they are behind calls to deselect certain MPs, with a local Momentum group publishing a list of MPs it would like to see removed, which was rejected by the national movement.
Richard Angell, director of Progress told BI: “It seems clear that work is going on both in front of and behind the scenes to make it easier to deselect MPs and to deselect particular Labour MPs. That is wrong and will backfire.
Instead, it will mean Labour losing long-held seats and depriving the country of the Labour government we all want to see.”
When asked whether he thought Momentum were behind calls to deselect certain MPs, Spellar said there was “no doubt about it.”
However, Momentum figures believe such complaints are merely sour grapes from a wing of the party that has lost its power. “Having a more democratic selection process I think is the way forward, and to those MPs that are very much against it, to frame it as a project of leftist entryism shows that they don’t even have faith in their own ideas,” Sarkar told BI.
“How are you going to expect to win over the country if you can’t even win over your CLP (Constituency Labour Party)?