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Why do Momentum get such a raw deal?

by Matthew Lane

momentum-logo-labour-party-jeremy-corbyn

If you listened to much of the media and some Labour MPs, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Momentum were an extreme, far-left, violent, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, brick-throwing bunch of thugs out to infiltrate and then destroy the Labour Party.

There have been concerted efforts to paint them as dangerous, threatening and chock full of Trots, Militants, commies, anarchists and hard-left entryists. Rather than being seen as a force for good, a progressive, democratic movement to build on the energy, passion and enthusiasm that was seen in the run-up to Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory last September, they are instead seen as a force for evil, a party within a party, a vehicle for the far-left, an organisation intent on deselecting anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

A return to the dark old days of the 80s, a decade where bitter divisions in the party led to Labour being unelectable for a generation, is inevitable if Momentum are allowed to get their way, if this terrifying grassroots movement of eager activists – young and old, some just getting into politics for the first time – are able to take control of the party. At least that’s the received wisdom.

The obvious answer as to why Momentum cause such panic among the Parliamentary Labour Party is that they fully back and support Jeremy Corbyn. For many of the PLP Corbyn equals the devil incarnate, a stubborn, unelectable protest politician who just refuses to give up his massive mandate and step down after only 10 months – 10 months in which he’s faced unprecedented hostility from a biased media, the Tories and his own MPs. Anything to do with Corbyn must therefore automatically be bad, scary and dangerous. No reasons are given as to why, but things like that don’t matter.

Once it was decided that Momentum was hard-left, that line then needed to be stuck to at all costs. Evidence to prove such a fact wasn’t needed, just a compliant media – the Evening Standard, for example, regularly talks of Momentum as a hard-Left or far-Left movement, as do the Times, the Telegraph, the Sun and the Daily Mail – and Labour MPs such as Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader, describing the group as a “bit of a rabble”.

Emma Reynolds, a Labour MP and a former minister in Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet, has described Momentum as “a parallel organisation to the Labour Party”.

She said back in October 2015 that the group have questions to answer:

What is it they are seeking to do? Who is going to be involved? Are there going to be members of the SWP or Trotskyite, Stalinist parties involved? And there is a suspicion they are really about de-selecting MPs and forcing MPs out of our party.”

Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter and a frequent critic of Jeremy Corbyn, has also been very forthright in his views of Momentum. Last December he said he was puzzled by the formation of a Momentum group in Exeter, saying:

“if they are genuine about supporting Labour they would be better spending their time taking the fight to the Tories rather than sniping at Labour MPs and fellow Labour members.”

In March this year he tweeted: “they’re useless time-wasters who have absolutely no desire to see Labour elected” after a planned protest against Florence Eshalomi, a councillor running for a seat on the Greater London Assembly (GLA).

In July Bradshaw went even further, appearing on BBC News to urge Jeremy Corbyn to “call off these Momentum thugs” after a window that was part of the building Angela Eagle’s constituency office resides in was bricked. At the time the media incorrectly stated that Eagle’s office window had been smashed, when this hadn’t been the case at all. It was a side door, of a building that was shared with seven other companies. It followed a spate of similar incidents in the surrounding area.

The police haven’t identified any motive for the attack or any of the perpetrators. There is no indication that it was carried out by a Corbyn supporter or even that the bricking had anything to do with Angela Eagle’s office. Any attempt to explicitly imply, as Bradshaw clearly did, that it was “Momentum thugs” who were guilty of the crime was incredibly unwise at best, inflammatory and sinister at worst.

Politicians should really think before they speak. In this case Bradshaw engaged his mouth before he engaged his brain. He made a tense situation even tenser by attempting to smear all Momentum activists as nasty, brick-throwing thugs.

It’s far from the only time Momentum members have been smeared in such a way. Stella Creasy, another vocal critic of the group – she said in March that “groups like Momentum now appear to be draining the very energy from our political process they claimed to be promoting, by encouraging the myth righteous by-standing is activism” – has apparently been a regular target for deselection by the Momentum “rabble” and “mob” who now supposedly control the levers of power in the party.

Again, there has been no actual evidence for attempts to deselect Creasy – just rumour, speculation and conjecture. But once that idea sticks – of Momentum as an unpleasant, nasty army of deselecters – it soon becomes gospel.

Creasy, who has in the past suggested that Momentum are far more interested in “meetings and moralising than real campaigning”, is regularly described as a moderate MP, in the same sort of club as Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham – moderate, moderate, moderate, moderate. No-one is quite sure why they’re so moderate (and their voting records often don’t back this up), but moderate in this case seems to mean standing for very little while constantly preaching that you stand for everything.
Miliband was a moderate, so were much of his frontbench at the last election. Labour lost dismally. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall are all described as moderate, with Burnham a bit to the left, Kendall a bit to the right, and Cooper firmly in the centre ground. All three were roundly beaten by Corbyn last September.

Now Owen Smith is the latest moderate, who also happens to be very radical and very, very left-wing (he’s keen to make this clear at every possible opportunity). The PLP can no longer decide if their moderate or centrist or radical or left-wing – but they’ll be holding a focus group in Nuneaton next week to find out for sure.

So while Cooper and Burnham, who both voted for the Iraq War (and any investigations into it), PFI, ID cards and tuition fees, are described as moderate, a grassroots movement made up of people from all backgrounds, professions and age groups whose main aim is “to create a mass movement for real progressive change” are routinely painted as a radical, hard left, purging, deselecting rabble; part of a group that has been infiltrated by the SWP and other far-left groups intent on destroying the Labour party.

Of course, if you actually go to a Momentum meeting, follow them on Twitter or receive email communications from them (as I do), then you would know that the reality doesn’t match the media portrayal. All communications I’ve received from them have been perfectly reasonable, rational and sensible – there has never been any talk of deselections or purges. They’ve just regularly outlined their support for Corbyn’s leadership and policies, called for a new kind of politics and attempted to mobilise support during by-elections, local elections and the referendum. They are now doing the same with the second Labour leadership election in under a year, relentlessly campaigning and trying to win support for Corbyn. Again, not one of the emails I’ve received has been in any way violent, hostile or inflammatory.

Maybe I’m receiving a different kind of email from everyone else, because I’m not actually a paid-up member, but I’ve seen nothing from Momentum to suggest that the paranoia and suspicion from the PLP about a far-left infiltration is in any way warranted.

Yes, there will be a few Momentum members that are shouty and aggressive, but they are likely to be in a very small minority, just like is the case on the right and centre of the party. Abuse, whatever the media likes to think, hasn’t just been going one way. However, to try and suggest that the 60,000 or so supporters Momentum has – plus those who have signed up to vote for Corbyn as leader or have joined the Labour party because of him – are all hard-left Trots is so ridiculous it’s not even worthy of proper scrutiny.

I’m 26. I’ll be honest, I had to look up what a Trotskyite was. I had to Google the TUSC and the SWP to know for sure what the acronyms stood for. I’m sure many other young people, engaged with politics for the first time because of Corbyn, would be the same. I’ve never, believe it or not, purchased a copy of the Morning Star. I’ve never been to a rally. I’ve never interacted with any far left-groups. I’m sure, as a Corbyn supporter, I’m far from alone in that.

A large portion of those backing Corbyn will just be ordinary, everyday people who want an alternative; a progressive stance against the most right-wing Tory government in years. In Corbyn we see a politician we can trust and get behind. He’s by no means perfect, but he’s the only one who is fully committed to actually challenging the status quo. He doesn’t just say things to get votes, he says things with conviction because he believes in what he is saying. After the Blair and Cameron years, that’s extremely refreshing.

People of my generation have grown up in the “they’re all the same, can’t trust any of ‘em” world of politics. Many young people don’t vote because they are so disenfranchised, because they think their voice won’t be heard. In Corbyn, though, they see someone who could actually improve their chances of owning their own home, getting a decent job and getting a university education without saddling themselves with a lifetime of debt.

The sneering attempts to write off Momentum as hard-left are why the PLP have been failing so badly to connect in recent years. If they still can’t understand why Corbyn won, why the Corbynmania surge last summer took off, or why young people (and older ones too) are putting all their faith in a 67-year old, allotment loving socialist who had never been in a position of power until last September, they are doomed to fail yet again. It’s the disconnect between the PLP and Labour members, festering for so many years, that led Corbyn to power. It’s the PLP’s patronising, we know best attitude that will see them lose again in a month and half’s time.

Isn’t it also odd that Progress, an actual party within a party with some very dubious funding and shocking levels of transparency, are only ever framed as moderate, whereas Momentum – a grassroots movement that anyone can join – are only ever framed as mad, bad and dangerous to know?

Why aren’t Progress afforded the same level of scrutiny and media coverage? What, as Emma Reynolds might put it, is Progress seeking to do? Who is involved? How are they being funded? What is their aim? And there is a suspicion that they refused to accept a democratic vote last September, have been working ever since then to overturn it – by any means – and are prepared to see the party split in order to get their own way.

The way in which Momentum have been framed is very telling – and more than a little worrying. How is it that such a large swathe of our media can paint them as hard-Left or far-Left without any actual evidence to back this up? How is it that a Labour MP can link Momentum members to violence and not be challenged on this?

Maybe that’s what the PLP fear most. That the grassroots now have a voice, a voice that is telling the PLP that they’ve been taken for granted for too long. Blair’s top down approach is no longer good enough for the members and the grassroots, but with so many New Labour/Progress/moderate/Fabian Society MPs still in place the PLP are unprepared to change their ways – not even three election defeats (including last year’s Labour leadership election) in a row will convince them that radical change is required.


13 Comments

  1. Guess that would be because the bastards hacked my twitter account and sent continuous nuisance calls to this disabled person and her family for months – not just thgugs they are cowards like the arsehole you are worshipping. let me make myself clear a man of peace like Gandhi went to jail and died for people like me, the bastard currently at head of Labour lets his thugs attack and cries at media – NOT A MAN never mind a man of peace!

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  2. Apologies to Archie. The two thumbs down are mine. First a fumble. Second trying to delete it!!! Like you I thought it an excellent article, and liked your comment.

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    • Archie says

      All’ s fine Roy and thank you for the up vote ,I appreciate your sentiments , just glad that there is this alternative to the MSM Guardian

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  3. michaelk says

    Large swathes of our media are manned by right-wing, bourgeois journalists. Bourgeois is an interesting word to look up too. That’s a joke. Though it’s a good idea. Anyway, the reaction to Corbyn’s success in the press is… extraordinary. The bias is so blatant, so dumb, that one wonders that they don’t worry it might have the opposite effect and backfire on them, which is arguably what happened the last time.

    In essence the next General Election is being fought now, inside the Labour Party, in a way. The risk of Corbyn surviving until the General Election is seen as a risk not worth taking. A lot can happen on the way, like a severe economic downturn, a big war, a huge scandal within the Tory Party, which could upset the polls and the predictions, and they are essentially self-fulfilling. So, it’s better to stop Corbyn now, years before the election, before he becomes too well-known and the demonisation wears off and his supporters gain confidence and their moral rises too much. After the election things could change, if Labour are crushed. Still the right in the party, the establishment, aren’t gonna run the risk that, so the place to stop Corbyn is here and now.

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  4. Nice article,
    I am not a member of Momentum but have considered joining. I’m not young (at least in years), and confess to have been a supporter of Tony Blair (I even have a signed autograph). I have been a Labour party member for many years, however though I continued to support the party I had pretty much completely given up on the idea that our political system would ever be fit for purpose and had directed my energies to campaigning through Avaaz, 38 degrees and SumofUs.
    In the last labour leadership election I’d no intention, at the outset ,of voting for Jeremy Corbyn; However I listened to him talk and was struct by his directness and honesty; I read his speeches and particularly the Economics speech,and realised here was someone prepared to take on the Neoliberal elite, with their redundant economic policies that are impoverishing the world and devastating the environment.
    Jeremy has led me to dare to hope; I’ve stopped minding the opprobrium of the media and the establishment and even laugh (I can’t be a Trott and a Nazi Stormtrooper); As Gandhi said; First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.

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    • Archie says

      Hi David, only you can make the decision to join Momentum or not , I have, and can say ” the waters just fine ” though . There is energy and dynamism that is quite lacking in some of the CLP meetings it helps to refresh your drive to get things moving when going back into those CLP meetings , and I am one of the older members of our CLP.
      Try it , you can always back out if you don;t like them.

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  5. ”I’m 26. I’ll be honest, I had to look up what a Trotskyite was. I had to Google the TUSC and the SWP to know for sure what the acronyms stood for. I’m sure many other young people, engaged with politics for the first time because of Corbyn, would be the same. I’ve never, believe it or not, purchased a copy of the Morning Star. I’ve never been to a rally. I’ve never interacted with any far left-groups. I’m sure, as a Corbyn supporter, I’m far from alone in that.”

    Oh dear, I have to say that you sound exactly like a moderate. Never bought a copy of the Morning Star, yes might get contaminated. Never been to a rally. I’ve never interacted with any far left-groups – heaven forbid! There seems to be an element of respectability craving here, albeit implicit. We’re just ordinary people, really quite respectable, not hard left, not trots, or anarchists, quite conformist really. Well with all due respect, my dear friend, you should know that if you wish to fundamentally change society you had better get used to being called all those things. Taking a position of opposition to the status quo makes you a target for retribution who will/do see you as a threat. Swimming against the mainstream takes guts, muscle, brains and will. Here’s a start, try Henryk Ibsen’s drama, ‘The Enemy of the People’

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Good piece Matt.

    “He [Corbyn] doesn’t just say things to get votes, he says things with conviction because he believes in what he is saying. After the Blair and Cameron years, that’s extremely refreshing.”

    Yes Corbyn is pretty much a lifelong member of the Labour Party, through thick and thin he’s been there. And people want conviction back in politics. Conviction has to be attacked by the MSM and the self-serving meritocracy which supports it, because it might be about the truth.

    As for the “Blair and Cameron years” they both significantly represent the root cause of peoples cynicism towards politics today i.e. take the money and run! Both resigned when their time in the lime light was over.

    Clearly their commitment to the people they served goes without question as outlined in the MSM which has no problem with their lack of commitment, their ultimate lack of conviction!

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  7. Mick McNulty says

    I think the Labour right are in collusion with the Tory establishment to kill off the left forever and introduce what will effectively be a one-party state, not with two wings but with two names. That’s why the Labour right are so desperate to keep the Labour name and identity, because a neo-liberal one-party state could not be made to work if the Labour right has to break off to form a new party. Any new party with policies similar to the Tories would lose votes to the Tories while policies opposed to the Tories will lose votes to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

    A Labour Party under right-wing control in support of Tory policies will lead to an authoritarian state with no opposition to it save for unrest. We’ll end up like some right-wing dictatorship in Asia or Central America.

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    • I think it was Noam Chomsky who said something like “Every four years, Americans get to choose between the presidential candidates representing the Democrat and Republican wings of the capitalist party”.
      It used to be said “What happens in America today happens in Britain tomorrow”.
      It seems there are those who want to export the American (US) model to Britain today.
      The only difference is in the names of the parties: Labour and Conservative.
      I think this is one American (US) export we can all do without!

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  8. “The police haven’t identified any motive for the attack or any of the perpetrators. There is no indication that it was carried out by a Corbyn supporter or even that the bricking had anything to do with Angela Eagle’s office”
    Let alone any evidence of the existence of the brick in question.

    As for the Stella Creasy incident;
    http://www.philosophers-stone.co.uk/?p=14174
    “Two listeners complained that the programme had inaccurately reported that a peaceful vigil in Walthamstow, in protest against the decision to bomb targets in Syria, had targeted the home of the local MP, Stella Creasy, and had been part of a pattern of intimidation towards Labour MPs who had supported the decision. The claim that the demonstration had targeted Ms Creasy’s home, and the implication that it was intimidatory in nature, originated from a single Facebook posting which later proved to be misleading (the demonstration’s destination was Ms Creasy’s constituency office, which was unoccupied at the time, not her home, and it was peaceful).”

    This “correction” was not carried on any news bulletins nor was it widely publicised. Instead it was placed on the BBC’s website, in the feedback section. Buried amidst corrections of typos. It didn’t matter. The story was out there. The goal achieved. We had war.

    Nice article by the way.

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  9. Archie says

    Don’t know who the author is but THANK YOU for a brilliant honest piece on Momentum , I am a member of both lab/Mom and find the diatribe from our MP’s shameful and insulting .However , I have now reached a point where it simply makes me smile with abject pity for them ,they are rather like the old Dinosaurs trying to figure out just what that big bang and flash in the sky was !
    I hope that the decent ordinary folks within Momentum will not get discouraged from the transforming work we are doing in reaching out and engaging members to become involved , even a little bit, with making their voices heard and their needs met by those MPs who for too long have not and are still not listening .

    Liked by 1 person

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