THE BLOG

Putting Momentum On A General Election Footing

07/11/2016 11:47

The last week has seen internal disputes in Momentum come out into the open. For most Momentum members and supporters, the reaction to this internal bickering has been accurately characterised by Michael Walker as split between outrage on the one hand, and bafflement on the other.

The reason for the dispute has been fairly well documented by now. For a detailed explanations of the dispute from both sides of the debate see here and here. On the surface, the argument revolves around what kind of organisational structure and culture should be adopted by Momentum going forwards. Scratch the surface of this debate and you realise this is about the fundamental political purpose and direction of Momentum.

For what it's worth, I think Momentum should make decisions using One Member One Vote for all members, with local groups as a space of regular deliberation and action, and an annual conference as a space to debate the strategic direction of the organisation. But despite the genuine importance of such questions, there is currently a powerful need to step outside of our political bunkers and smell the coffee. To people on the outside, it looks like we're wasting precious time. And in some ways they are right.

It is likely there will be a general election in May 2017. That's 6 months away. At the risk of sounding like Owen Jones' pet parrot, Labour is trailing badly in the polls, languishing in the mid-20s, while the Conservatives are cruising up in the early-40s. On this trajectory, Labour is heading for its worst defeat in 80 years, more or less the worst defeat in its history. And much more importantly Theresa May's Conservative government - a reckless, racist clique of opportunists - will be handed a dizzying mandate to lead us into a hard, chaotic Brexit.

We must do everything in our power to stop this happening.

We need to put Momentum 'on a general election footing' from now. After all, we are experts in elections - we've won two in a year. But this one will be much bigger and much much more difficult to win. We shouldn't wait for a date to be announced, nor for the shadow cabinet or Momentum head office to tell us what to do. I think every local Momentum should establish a general election campaign working group as soon as possible. Ideally this would include a broad range of experience - people who have never fought a general election before, and people who have. This group could then begin to work out what is needed to take the Labour general election campaign to a higher plane. Such a working group should reach out to branch officers who are likely to run a general election campaign locally, find out what they are planning, and plan to fill in the gaps and expand the campaign in creative ways. This could include: twinning safe seats with swing seats, setting up a weekly stall on your local shopping street, organising local 'listening sessions' where the public are invited to talk about the issues that matter to them, or new and better ideas. One of the simplest and most useful activity which could be undertaken is to encourage Momentum members out to CLP and branch campaigning sessions. After all, whilst we must work to harness the energy and creativity of new members, that doesn't imply the need for a parallel campaign.

Likewise, the central office of Momentum should focus on mobilising all members to campaign for a Labour victory. It should also provide training and resources to support activists campaign in an engaging way, including appealing to people who may be initially suspicious of the Labour Party. Historically, Labour has focused on Voter ID and then 'Get The Vote Out' campaigns. The former identifying who is a natural Labour supporter, and the latter reminding them to vote at the given time. Whilst both types of canvassing are absolutely necessary, they don't equip members to persuade voters who may not automatically identify with Labour. Momentum can help promote a campaigning culture where members are equipped to engage members of the public who at first may be indifferent or hostile. Beyond this, the technologies developed on the second Jeremy for Labour campaign could function well for a general election campaign. Most notably this could include the web-app which enables members to canvass in their own time from home. However, whether these technologies can be re-purposed would be reliant on a positive relationship to Labour HQ, as Momentum itself doesn't have relevant data for a general election campaign.

None of the above requires ending all discussions on Momentum's democratic structure. But it might mean spending less time thinking about them. At the very least, it would mean certain people in Momentum deciding that they want to focus the bulk of their energy on campaigning rather than organisational structure. Those who opt for the former would still have a say in the latter, but their time would be spent pulling people into mobilising and campaigning.

There will be those that point out that replacing neoliberal hegemony will take more than one electoral cycle (hence the need to get Momentum's structures in place now). In all likelihood they are right. But there will be little socialist hegemony left to build if Labour loses catastrophically - it would likely be too demoralising for the vast majority of those enthused by Corbynism. We must not let the organisational debate distract us from the immediate, pressing task we are faced with: exploding the opinion polls through a deluge of outward-facing campaigning against the Conservatives and the kind of society they want to create.

Being a member of a party is not like being a fan of a football team. It's not enough to buy a season ticket, go to matches, and moan when the manager makes the wrong decision. We are the first eleven. Whether you feel like the the centre forward or the goalie, we've all got an active role to play, and it's our duty to win. And I don't even like football.

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