For a report of what happened at the London regional network (which voted to censure the Steering Committee 31-0, on 29 October) see here.
Dear comrades – apologies if anything in this report is unclear or confusing. In addition to the events themselves being quite confused, this was written late at night after a very long day at work and then a long meeting. Please feel free to email questions and comments to email@example.com. See also my initial brief report here, which includes basic decisions about the NC and who voted how, and Michael Chessum’s comments here.
This evening’s Steering Committee (28 October), called at 21 hours notice on a Friday evening, and against the wishes of several SC members, pushed through most of Jon Lansman and Sam Wheeler’s agenda. Ironically arguing that local groups, regional committees and the National Committee are dubious in their legitimacy. If it wasn’t so serious it would be funny.
The meeting was supposedly called to decide how the liberation groups inside Momentum elect their reps and on whether or not to cancel the long awaited November 5 National Committee. Michael Chessum, Jackie Walker, Matt Wrack and myself had all opposed an emergency SC for tonight arguing as Matt Wrack put it, it is “an outrageous way to do business”.
It soon became clear that Lansman and Wheeler were confident they had a strong majority to push through more than a cancellation of the NC.
Regardless of what you think about OMOV* of some sort vs a national conference based on elected delegates, how the majority on the Steering Committee behaved tonight is nothing short of total disregard for any democratic structures we have, however imperfect they may be, inside Momentum – again.
There was a reasonably quick resolution to the call for delegates from the liberation groups to be done by OMOV in time for the November 5 NC.
Next came the call to cancel the NC on November 5, Sam Wheeler, from the North West, argued we had to cancel the NC because it clashed with the NW Regional Labour Party Conference. Now bear in mind a) the date of the NC has been out for more than five weeks and b) the North West region of Momentum has more members than Scotland and the North East put together, and they only have three delegates. Yet Sam Wheeler said he feared the clash would be of detriment to both events. The arguments went back and forth with Sam refusing to a) to explain why we had to cancel as the NW regional committee given it would only take out three people from the NW and b) tell the meeting how many people from North West Momentum groups were due to go to NW Regional Labour Party Conference.
Sam Wheeler and Jon Lansman spent far too much time arguing that local groups and the regional committees were undemocratic and unrepresentative. Lansman illustrated his point by telling us he’d attended one meeting recently where the Chair hastily proposed himself and another incumbent to continue to be the delegates to the regional committee from that group. He said someone from the floor of the meeting asked if there was to be a vote and the Chair swiftly went to the vote without asking for other nominations. When I asked him which group this is and who is the Chair, he said “Southwark and Nick Wrack”. Lansman has it in for local groups, always has had because he knows local groups often represent serious activists who both campaign in their localities, want to transform the Labour party and understand the need for an actively participatory membership to do this.
Throughout the debate arguments for a form of OMOV were frequently put by Lansman, Sam Wheeler and Sam Tarry. Lansman then moved a procedural motion that the meeting goes to a vote on conducting the National Conference by OMOV. Michael and myself argued that this was not the business of the meeting, that it had not been put on the agenda, either as a discussion item or a motion to be voted on and that it was therefore not legitimate business. Regardless of what you think of OMOV, this committee did not have the legitimate power to make this decision.
Lansman pushed his procedural motion to go to the vote, confidently knowing he had a majority; and he won his procedural motion by 7 votes for, 2 against and 1 abstention (Martyn Cook – Abstained, Darren Williams, Cecile Wright, Sam Tarry, Marsha Jane Thompson, Christine Shawcross, and Jon Lansman in favour and Michael and myself against). Then we went to the vote on an OMOV conference with the same votes cast. This should have been the legitimate business of the National Committee.
Sam Tarry ended this part of meeting by asking: “Why bother with a national committee, let’s go straight to an OMOV conference!” And who sorts out the OMOV conference? Not a National committee made up of 50 or so recently elected delegates, but a steering Committee made up of a dozen people who were elected in February supposedly until August when a new Steering Committee was due to be elected and, of course, it never was because we haven’t had a national committee for six months.
Next Sam Wheeler moved his motion to cancel November 5 National Committee and the votes were same with the exception of Cecile Wright who voted with Michael and myself against the cancellation of the NC.
The only thing left at this point was for me to propose a date for another an NC on Saturday 3 December. This was carried by 6 votes in favour and 4 abstentions. The votes were cast as follows: In favour – Darren Williams, Martyn Cook, Cecile Wright, Michael Chessum, Christine Shawcross, and myself, while no one voted against, Sam Tarry, Sam Wheeler, Jon Lansman and Marsha Jane Thompson all abstained on a new NC date set for December 3.
This date has since been changed – by text! – to December 10.
A fine example of how to bureaucratically carve up an organisation of 20,000 members while arguing what they were doing was all about democracy and everyone having their say. What it will mean in reality is that a small clique will seek to run Momentum, calling the odd electronic plebiscite and or survey of the membership, in between members being called upon to defend the leadership at the next challenge. Such manoeuvres cannot build an open democratic organisation that is active on the ground, organising in the Labour Party to transform its structures, and building community and labour movement wide campaigns.
Time for the membership, activists, groups and regions of Momentum to fight back for democracy.
* To clarify what I mean by OMOV (One Member One Vote). Jon Lansman and co are not always clear, but it seems what they mean is that delegates to Momentum conference will not take any decisions but votes will instead be taken by an online ballot of all members afterwards. This is bizarrely reminiscent of Blairism, bureaucratic manipulation veiled in plebiscitary pseudo-democracy.