About 500 people attended Momentum’s “Building to win” event in Birmingham on 25 March. As expected there was no chance to have a debate about the way forward for Momentum, just 15 sessions ranging from “Nice people finish first” to “Community organising at the grassroots” and “Momentum Trade Union Solidarity”.
Empowerment was the theme ,but this did not mean giving people any power, just making people feel good about campaigning or their own importance to the movement. Similarly a lot of the talk about how to engage and debate was aimed at lessening sharp debate, rounding the edges of any disagreements, achieving consensus and being dismissive of “Trots” and the “hard left.” But it seemed this was people had come for — a very apolitical day. On the other hand, the atmosphere was friendly and it was possible to have comradely conversation. Workers’ Liberty activists were able to raise support for the Picturehouse strikes.
The overall attendance was younger than the Grassroots Momentum (held on 11 March) but not by a huge margin. The only publications on sale were Morning Star, (the paper controlled by the Communist Party which is in fact standing against Labour in the West Midlands Mayoral election), Labour Briefing (co-op), Solidarity and The Clarion.
While many local Momentum groups remain active, it appears that the coup has caused a number of groups to stop meeting. This seemed a particular problem in areas with lots of Momentum members and a lack of an active Labour Party. The consequences in the May local elections or general election will not be good. Unfortunately the blandness was echoed by John McDonnell MP who said; “In the recent by-elections it was striking to see members of Momentum and Progress putting their differences to one side and campaigning together for Labour.... Momentum’s plans to support and build community institutions – social spaces, cinema clubs, food banks and sports centres – to encourage bottom-up cultural renewal in areas across the UK that have been left behind should be commended.”
None of these things have been agreed by Momentum members. A democratic conference that allowed full discussion of the kind of work and role of Momentum is sorely needed.