I put myself forward in the Forward Momentum primaries, and one of the key lessons I learnt was about democracy. Forward Momentum talks a good talk, and clearly it is better than Momentum as currently constituted and better than Momentum Renewal. But at least some of the leading people’s approach to democracy has been to support it when it suits them.
Whether it’s the omission of agreed policies from their “Plan”, the banning of Ruth Cashman from standing in the primaries in London, or their response to the Stalinist witch-hunting of Workers’ Liberty, their democratic commitment has less than clear and consistent.
Even in terms of democratising Momentum itself, there is a hesitancy about basic concepts of labour movement democracy, like having a decision-making conference. Quite a few in Forward Momentum seem to have bought the idea that such democratic structures and procedures are off-putting. But if we don’t have them, we’ll end up with an improved version of what we have in Momentum at the moment – consultation that is more or less real, not democracy. Without democracy, Momentum cannot be fundamentally changed.
You can see the logic feeding through in the fact that Forward Momentum is not really arguing for a sovereign Labour Party conference either, even though that is an absolutely essential demand.
In parallel, it’s easy to talk about socialist politics, but the political debate so far has been very narrow. We’ve had the bizarre situation where people insist that we can’t talk about Brexit, ignoring not only the reality of public opinion – which is far more progressive than most of the left – but also the huge issue staring us in the face, out in the real world.
Again, you can see the political logic feed through in the fact that a third of the Forward Momentum policy committee voted against campaigning for free movement – and even now they are not really talking about it. Back in reality, it’s crucial.
The background is Labour’s weak response in the Covid-crisis and its failure to raise a clear alternative. Momentum should be developing that alternative. Look at council cuts, which is about to become an even bigger issue, with huge cuts to their budgets. This is something where the Corbynite left fell down massively, arguing essentially to wait for a Labour government but not even making clear demands on what a Labour government would do.
This problem applies to so many issues – social care, the Black Lives Matter struggle, climate politics. It’s easy to say the words Green New Deal, even Socialist Green New Deal, but what are the politics of that? How do we link it with workers’ struggles – with a Lucas Plan in every workplace? How do we develop clear socialist demands?
Black Lives Matter is also a crucial issue to raise, not only because it’s so glaring in the world, but because Labour has taken such a conservative position on the police – and Momentum has tailed that, at best. More recently, under the pressure of the protests it has said some better things, but the result is all it’s incredibly contradictory.
More broadly, that displays the incredible limitations of what they thinks socialism is all about – as if more police or more of anything the existing state does is socialist.
I’m standing to raise all these things. Someone in Forward Momentum asked me why are you standing against people with the same politics as you. But, functionally at least, the politics aren’t the same. Myself and comrades like Ruth Cashman are standing to make arguments and raise issues that otherwise won’t be raised in our regions.
Above all, we’re standing to start a real political debate – about these issues and many others – among Momentum members.
• Kas is an NHS worker, Unison member and Labour activist who is standing for Momentum National Coordinating Group in the “Northern, Scotland and Rest of World” region on the Momentum Internationalists platform (momentuminternationalists.org). Ruth Cashman and Ana Oppenheim (London region), Abbie Clark (Midlands and East), and Nadia Whittome (“elected officials” constituency) have also backed the platform. Momentum Internationalists is canvassing other candidates for their stance on the platform and on some specific pledges, and will make voting recommendations accordingly.