For the uninitiated, Momentum is what became of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign, after he won the leadership. Its purpose is, I have to say, somewhat unclear in that it seems to vary depending on who you ask.
The official line is that it is an entirely innocent campaign group aiming to build on the enthusiasm built up during the leadership campaign. The fear is that it’s a hard left pressure group to serve as enforcers to purge those who disagree with the dear leader from the Labour Party.
As with most things, I imagine the truth varies, somewhere between the two (But then you would say that, wouldn’t you, you wishy-washy moderate? -Ed).
So with the Southend branch of Momentum holding its inaugural meeting last week, as a Corbyn-sceptic but with a general fondness towards the Labour Party, I decided to go along and see what it was all about.
Now, first of all, I have read Mark Wallace’s account of a Momentum meeting in Lambeth, and whilst I have absolutely no doubt that it is an accurate portrayal of that meeting — never mind his politics, Mark is an excellent journalist and writer — what he witnessed was definitely not true of Momentum in Southend. Granted, it was never likely to be; Lambeth, being a Labour heartland, was always going to have a more numerous and active hard left scene than Southend. We don’t, for instance, have any MPs for them to deselect.
As it were, the vast majority of the attendees — whom I will not be naming — were members of the party, a fair number were people I know personally, and none — so far as I am aware — were members of other parties.
The actual meeting was very civil and very much what I would have expected. There was discussion of how to harness the enthusiasm of Jeremy Corbyn’s support, how they needed to resist the — much overhyped and overestimated — elements trying to force Corbyn out, and how to get more people involved and interested in politics.
Those previously experienced in local politics will recognise that last point as the perennial objective of political parties of all colours, and for good reason: Labour recently won a by-election in Rochford by four votes, showing that every vote and every campaigner makes the difference. With the larger campaigning force, it is possible to comprehensively outwork your opponents.
The majority of contributions were eminently sensible suggestions of how Momentum could raise its profile through local activism, and work together with the local Labour Party. Even with my own political differences — I strongly suspect I was the only opponent of unilateral nuclear disarmament in the room — it was quite encouraging to see people wanting to get stuck in, even if I am naturally reticent of some of the pseudo-religious language on display (Jeremy Corbyn is NOT the messiah, he’s a very — oh, never mind -Ed).
There were, aside from the main speaker, only two speeches which I felt qualified as hard-left, one of which from a Corbyn supporter who was not a member of the Party (Eh? -Ed), and who thought that the Labour Party was “in the pocket of the Banks”. I would suggest that this is not the case.
The second was from someone calling to “break open” selections and prise the control of the Constituency Labour Party from the “Blairites” — a term whose overuse has seen it lose all meaning, devolving into a catchall covering the whole multitude of those who haven’t drunk the Corbyn kool-aid. Never mind that Southend Labour selections are completely open and democratic, and my lingering suspicion is that the person in question merely hoped that Momentum would offer them a vehicle to win selection without actually having to put in any effort.
I did live-tweet the event, mainly because I could and because I sometimes amuse myself, and this seems to have caused a degree of upset within the group since. Apparently it was “childish” and “sarcastic”, but if they took the time to read the rest of my tweets they might see that that works better as a description of myself than of my treatment of Southend Momentum.
Ultimately, what did I make of Momentum? Are they a dangerous, entryist, Militant rebranded? Well, not in Southend. Certainly not in any threatening way. Really, it seemed more of a political talking shop for like-minded members of a particular trend of thought within the Labour Party. It’s not a trend of thought that I particularly agree with, but each to their own, and there’s nothing wrong with having a place to bounce around ideas. After all, and to my endless amusement, one of our local activists has vented their disgust with Corbyn’s election by joining Progress.
So let a thousand flowers bloom, as we all sincerely hope that the Shadow Chancellor will not soon be saying at the dispatch box.