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Happy Birthday Momentum: It's Time to Grow Up

08/04/2016 11:05 | Updated 08 April 2016

A couple of days ago an email dropped into my inbox which took me by surprise. It told me that this Friday Momentum, the group set up by ardent supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to dig in around their man, were celebrating their birthday and they wanted to share some of their achievements.

It got me thinking. Surely Momentum can't have been around for a year? Surely it's not been a whole 365 days since Labour had given up on being an electoral force in favour of becoming a pressure group?

And then I read more and realised. Of course it isn't. Just like the rules of politics the rules of life don't apply to Momentum.

It's not actually a real birthday that Momentum are celebrating but a six month one, the sort of birthday or anniversary no one but no one celebrates unless you are a pimply sixth former going out with your first girlfriend.

Sending an email out, as Momentum have done, about your six month birthday tells you a lot about an organisation, or for that matter a person, and just about where they are in the circle of life.

Of course I'm being a little facetious and announcing a landmark is a good way to get people reading an email but certainly the rest of the text highlights for me at least Momentum, and for that matter Labour, have got a long to go before we are back on the track of being a credible government in waiting.

Momentum are highlighting their support for Action for Rail's #RailRipOff campaign, that they give their 'full support to the striking junior doctors' by joining them on picket lines. Momentum supporters joined the largest 'mobilisation against Trident for a generation' and 'took to the streets to protest against the Tory housing bill' and you realise their objectives aren't about changing things but about feeling satisfied in expressing their disappointment.

The harsh but simple fact is all of those well-meaning demonstrations have changed nothing. I was told by a much wiser head than my own some months ago a good rule for life, hashtags and placards don't change the world, being in positions of power does that. Isn't that self-evident when you take a look at Momentum's record over these past six months?

It's important to remember though that Momentum isn't all about marches and twitterstorms, they have meetings too, lots and lots of meetings. Over and above local groups they have had their first round of Regional Network Meetings, they've had their first National Committee meeting with 52 delegates, they've had an East Midlands Regional Conference and attended People's PPE lectures and Talk Socialism outreach workshops. That's whole lot of talking, but sadly isn't it preaching to the converted? Those people who already agree with you?

Perhaps most crucially Momentum have asked all of their supporters their top 3 campaign priorities. That is the biggest folly of them all. I'll guarantee some of the issues that won't be on the list.

You won't hear Momentum members being concerned about immigration, you won't hear them talking about the tax burden for working families being too high, you won't hear them talking about a strong private sector. You won't hear Momentum members prioritising a whole raft of issues which have little importance to their public sector supporting, Guardian reading followers but which are crucial to voters in every marginal constituency in Britain.

And that is the problem. Self-selecting groups so full of their own priorities will always fail to resonate with voters who simply do not share them.

When I was first elected as a councillor straightaway I became leader of my district Labour group, a group who were in opposition by just five seats. I remember a retired miner, an old fashioned Labour warhorse, coming up to me and saying 'the very worst thing in politics is being in opposition, you never achieve anything and you get tired from losing'. Those words were some of the wisest I have ever heard in politics.

Being in opposition is horrible. You see the worst off, the ones you want to help most, in dire straits and there is not a thing you can do about it. You see people who can't afford to live under a Tory government having to do so precisely because the electorate do not trust their vote to opposition politicians who can. You see the privileged and paternalistic pontificating about ideology when a pragmatic, problem solving alternative is what is needed.

It's fabulous that Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum have attracted a new support but unless it can contribute to becoming a new government all the banners in the world will be for nothing.

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