The Long Awaited Founding Conference of Momentum Will Be a Virtual Conference!
|Jon Lansman, Momentum's founder is determined not to share power with the membership|
In his farewell speech to the House of Commons Tony Benn repeated one of his most famous sayings concerning democracy and accountability. It is particularly relevant at the present time given Jon Lansman’s coup against Momentum’s membership.
‘In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person--Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates--ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.’
These are the questions we should be asking of Jon Lansman and those on the Steering Committee who voted with him –does your power derive, to whom are you accountable and most importantly how do Momentum members rid themselves of your misleadership?
|Jackie Walker - removed as Vice-Chair of Momentum by Jon Lansman and friends despite the overwhelming opposition of Momentum members and branches|
On the evening of October 27, Jon Lansman, the sole director of ‘Jeremy for Labour’ company (renamed from Momentum Campaign Ltd in the summer), called an emergency meeting of the Momentum Steering Committee for the evening of October 28 – i.e., with 19 hours’ notice. Some members, such as Matt Wrack and Jackie Walker, were not able to attend at such short notice. The meeting decided, by six votes to three, to cancel the November 5 meeting of the National Committee which was scheduled to take decisions on the organisation of Momentum’s founding conference in February 2017.
It was the February National Committee meeting which elected the Steering Committee for the following six months, i.e. up to August. Therefore what has happened is that Momentum’s Steering Committee, a lower body, has just voted to disallow the higher body from meeting! Clearly constitutional theory is not Lansman’s forte!
It also decided that the first Momentum conference should be in the ethernet, a virtual reality conference. It would have no physical manifestation. There would be no meeting hall, no delegates, no debates, just an atomised membership who would vote on the different proposals put before them. And who would decide the structures that allow such a vote? Well you guessed it. The same Jon Lansman and his coterie who have decided that, come what may, they can’t be removed. Hence why Momentum’s Companies are in the sole name of Lansman, who is sole director.
Since the National Committee elected the Steering Committee it is unconstitutional for the latter body to effectively abolish the body which elected it. It recalls the famous poem "Die Lösung" (The Solution) of Bertold Brecht after the workers’ uprising in East Berlin in 1953:
After the uprising of June 17th
The Secretary of the Authors' Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Which said that the people
Had forfeited the government's confidence
And could only win it back
By redoubled labour. Wouldn't it
Be simpler in that case if the government
Dissolved the people and
In an email issued by Momentum to ‘key people’ “in local groups the decision was justified by the fact that “some Momentum members, groups and regional network meetings had raised concerns about the organisation of the 5 November National Committee meeting, the process leading up to it and democratic representation and participation for Momentum members more broadly”. We are not told who these people are nor what were their concerns were. Still less were we told whether they had called for the NC not to meet.
If it is true that people had concerns about the November NC then this is entirely the fault of the self-same committee that is now shutting down our democracy altogether. This body gave branches and regional committees almost no time to meet and discuss proposals for the conference or to choose delegates for the November 5 meeting. In fact, most members have not even seen the various proposals on the future of Momentum and how the conference might be run.
One member, one vote
Lansman also pushed through a motion which stipulates that the conference must be organised via a system of “online voting for all members” – the full 20,000 of them! The merits or otherwise of the various forms of representation for the conference was to be decided by the November 5 National Committee which has now been conveniently cancelled.
An excited email sent to all members on 29th October from Momentum centrally informs us that, “Over the coming months, members will propose their ideas on Momentum’s aims, ethics, and structure. We will use digital technology to ensure that all members can be involved and shape Momentum’s future.”
This is the very opposite of democracy. It is designed to atomise individual members and undermine conference as the collective decision-making body of Momentum. It underlines the extent to which sections of the left have internalised the defeats of the past decades. It is Thatcher’s union ‘reforms’ writ large.
To add to the confusion, it is unclear precisely what Lansman and his allies are actually proposing. Jill Mountford takes a guess that “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.”
This is worse than anything Tony Blair managed to foist on the Labour Party. How can we ever again gripe about the bowdlerising of Labour Party conference democracy if we acquiesce to the travesty that Jon Lansman and his cohorts are trying to foist on to us?
We are still in the dark as to how motions might be proposed to conference. The original Lansman plan required an initial 50 signatures for a motion to progress further. After several more hurdles had been vaulted, 1000 signatures would be required for a motion to be heard by conference. Many branches and regional committees have criticised this, calling for the threshold to be lowered. It is very likely that the National Committee meeting of November 5 would have overturned restrictive stipulations like these and challenged many more of the plans of Lansman and co.
Clearly it is much better to just stop the NC from meeting at all! On 29th October I received the following email, as did other Momentum members. It is a classic example of deception dressed up in the language of false bravado. I omit the final flowery paragraph:
Momentum has had a big first year. We’ve established over 150 local groups across the UK, run national campaigns, formed the backbone of Jeremy’s incredible second leadership campaign - and now we have over 20,000 members.
Momentum helps the Labour Party to become a more open, democratic and campaigns-focused organisation. We need to be member-led ourselves. You must decide the future of your organisation.
Yesterday, Momentum’s Steering Committee voted to start the process of ensuring that Momentum becomes a truly democratic member-led organisation, reflecting the new kind of politics.
Over the coming months, members will propose their ideas on Momentum’s aims, ethics, and structure. We will use digital technology to ensure that all members can be involved and shape Momentum’s future. This process will culminate in our first national conference, with online voting for all members, in February.
It is a classic in Orwellian hyperbole and double think. It talks about a member led organisation when the proposals from the SC are designed to achieve the exact opposite. The decision of the SC to distribute the arguments of those opposed to these proposals were conveniently overturned as Lansman fondly imagines that if he doesn’t distribute them people won’t oppose know about them! Dictators far more intelligent than Lansman have harboured similar illusions! Momentum groups are up in arms, not only about this but the removal of Jackie Walker as Vice-Chair.
The Statement Below is a precis from Labour Party Marxists
The last 48 hours have seen all hell break lose in Momentum. It is essential that Momentum members and branches hurry messages and resolutions into Momentum centre to condemn this latest attempt to shut down democracy in the organisation.
At the heart of what has happened lies a deep, morbid distrust of the members and democracy. As SC member Jill Mountford put it in her report: “Sam Wheeler and Jon Lansman spent far too much time arguing that local groups and the regional committees were undemocratic and unrepresentative.”
Momentum branches are forbidden to send emails to all Momentum members in their area. All communications must be routed through Momentum nationally, presumably so the content can be vetted.
· Momentum branches have been told not to bring their members together in constituencies and wards to work to maximise their political impact in these geographical units of the party. This makes it very hard to effectively cohere the Labour left in these locales. The official reason for this restriction is that the Labour Party does not allow the affiliation of organisations with a ‘mirror' structure, as the rule book dubs it. But then, Momentum is not affiliated to the Labour Party, it is not a party. Its members should be working together in cohesive units, sharing experiences and discussing in their democratic local forums the direction of their national organisation.
· Apart from sending out insipid campaigning news, the Momentum leadership does not communicate with its members. There are no minutes, no reports, no agendas of the organisation’s committees. Some “key contacts”, as they are dubbed, in some branches sometimes rec
A few of these comrades forward this intel to some other people some of the
time. In effect this has helped to create local cliques that monopolise key
information. The vast majority of Momentum membership have no idea of who runs
their organisation, what decisions they take and how.
Momentum’s claim to represent some sort of clean “new kind of politics” is starting to look very much like the old type of politics – decisions taken before meetings have even convened, a disregard of basic constitutional principles, an existing clique trying to preserve its own power. In fact the behaviour of Jon Lansman, Sam Tarry and co. seems to resemble nothing so much as the behaviour of Iain McNicol and Tom Watson. They are the very antithesis of democratic socialism.
The London Momentum regional committee on October 29 voted by 31 to 0 (with 2 abstentions) for the following motion. For a Report see here
This meeting of the London Momentum Regional Committee censures the National Steering Committee for cancelling the meeting of the National Committee that was scheduled for 5 November and agreeing a method of organising the national conference without waiting for the National Committee to discuss it.
We do not recognise the legitimacy of the Steering Committee to make these decisions. We call for these decisions of the National Steering Committee to be rescinded and for the NC to proceed as originally scheduled on 5 November.
2) The Labour Representation Committee:
LRC national conference passed this resolution at its October 29 conference:
LRC AGM condemns the decision of yesterday's Momentum SC to cancel the scheduled NC for 5th November and its decision to abandon a delegate conference in February.
3) Model motion from Labour Party Marxists:
This meeting condemns the decision by a hastily convened emergency meeting of the Momentum Steering Committee on October 28 to cancel the November 5 meeting of the National Committee. This NC was scheduled to decide the organisational details of our first national conference in February 2017.
Important decisions on the future of Momentum should involve as many members as possible. Six people on the national Steering Committee (a body that was supposed to be re-elected in August 2016) have decided to stop branches and regional committees to have their say on the future of our organisation.
We call for the National Committee meeting, re-arranged for December 10, to go ahead. It must discuss and make decisions on all issues pertaining to the organisation of our conference, including voting arrangements, delegate credentials and ratios, the future composition of the National Committee, etc.
Jill Mountford who is a member of the Momentum Steering Committee has blogged on what happened at the meeting of 28th October because of course Lansman and co. would not dream of distributing minutes or a report of the meeting.
Momentum Steering Committee cancels 5 November NC, but we win vote for new date (including who voted how)* For cancelling 5 November: Jon Lansman, Darren Williams, Sam Tarry, Marsha Jane Thompson, Christine Shawcroft, Sam Wheeler.
Against: Jill Mountford, Michael Chessum, Cecile Wright.
Abstaining: Martyn Cook.
** For calling a new NC in December: Darren Williams, Martyn Cook, Cecile Wright, Jill Mountford, Michael Chessum, Christine Shawcroft.
Abstaining: Jon Lansman, Marsha Jane Thompson, Sam Wheeler, Sam Tarry.
I must confess to being surprised by the vote of Christine Shawcroft who is part of the split in Labour Briefing. She voted for the removal of Jackie Walker as vice-chair of Momentum but I took that to be because of bad blood between the groups. This vote is inexplicable.
Another member of the Momentum Steering Committee, Michael Chessum, explains his vote against Lansman’s proposals.
‘What do you call it when an executive votes to abolish the legislature?...
Momentum's steering committee met tonight in a meeting that was called with less than a day's notice, ostensibly to consider delaying the National Committee meeting which was due to meet on November 5th. I went to the meeting prepared to oppose the move (it's already 6 months since our democratic structures met) and expected to find myself in a minority. The NC was due to discuss (among other things) the composition and processes for Momentum's February conference, which would in turn decide our structures. In advance of it, local groups and regions had patchily met to discuss various proposals.
But my initial concerns were blown out of the water. Instead, the meeting not only voted to postpone the NC to December, but to bypass the NC entirely and make the decision that Momentum's conference should effectively not happen (instead being a live streamed national gathering), and momentum's structures decided by e-ballot. This was in a meeting called with 19 hours notice.
A lot of this was justified with an attitude of "it can't possibly be undemocratic to let all members vote, so pack up your deliberative structures and democratically agreed processes". Now I don't know about anyone else who's been around the Labour movement for more than 5 minutes, but I've heard that strain of logic before - and i dont mean from the left.
Now even if you think that literally all of the organisation's decisions should be taken by OMOV (personally I favour a mixed system with both OMOV and delegate meetings; but I can quite see how with a complex conference structures debate you might want a delegate debate rather than an atomized online vote), but whatever your view, this is just an outrageous, farcical way for that decision to be made.
Momentum is fantastic - and so are many of the people who frankly found themselves on the wrong side on this - but I really worry about the left sometimes, and how some bits of it have absorbed the modus operandi of blairism during the wilderness years.
Jackie Walker has also issued a statement:
"I am making a statement on the working of the Momentum Steering Committee.
Up till now, despite others commenting freely, and often in an uninformed way, I have agreed to be silent. However, events of the last few days have changed this.
'Almost immediately after the Jewish Labour Movement began to tweet against me after the training event, a 'senior member' of Momentum joined in, briefing the press, in particular a Guardian journalist, Joan Elgot. Interestingly those tweets have since been removed, though screenshots have been taken. This was very soon followed by full articles, both in the on-line and paper version, which said "The Guardian understands her removal from the post is likely to be confirmed when the committee meets on Monday. A spokesperson for the left wing grassroots movement, which was set up to support Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the party, confirmed members wanted her to go." I was also informed by the Guardian, as were others on the Steering Committee, at the same time as the Guardian Leadership, the date and outcome of the meeting to remove me. Included in this same article were comments by Manuel Cortes, Gen Sec of the TSSA, threatening to remove Momentum from TSSA premises if I were not removed. This came, I believe, soon after Cortes had publicly called me a rabid anti-Semite, or something to that effect.
While the press may have known when the meeting to remove me would be, as well as the result, I was given only 48 hours notice of the hearing and no details either of how it would be run or what the charges were against me, despite repeated requests. The extraordinary spectacle of a group of trades unionist treating a comrade in a way THEY would not accept had they been representing me as trades unionist was shameful to our movement. No statement was taken from me or from anyone who had been at the JLM training event. The irony is the SC used evidence from the same media sources that had recently condemned Jeremy as an incompetent, an antisemite and a terrorist.
After this kangaroo court, I asked for a complaint of this process to be forwarded to the NC and for an investigation to be launched about the leak. A meeting of the SC voted against giving me access to the NC. I know who leaked, as do many people on the SC.
As to the most recent example of the lack of democracy of the SC, on Thursday at 10:30pm I received a notification of an emergency SC meeting. There was no mention of a discussion on how the conference would be run. A number of people could not make, or would not agree to come to such a meeting. A number of people, including myself and Matt Wrack, protested as to undemocratic process. Some members agreed to phoned in. Imagine my shock the next morning at being informed both that the NC was to be postponed and that the decision had been made by the SC that conference votes would be made on line. This occurred even though at least 2 papers were outlining different process of voting at conference had been tabled for discussion at the (now cancelled) NC.
The sovereign body is the NC. The SC is there to implement their decisions. This is an outrage.
The two examples I describe here are just the most well known of a general culture of disdain which too many members of the SC have supported. It is crucial that this changes.’