My recommendations to Momentum
The other week I applied for the National Coordinator post at Momentum.
I did so because I believe that, while Momentum has taken a very wrong turn since its formation in 2015, it still has the potential to be a catalyst for genuine, associative social action of the type which represents the British left’s best hope of outflanking and ultimately defeating the new pincer movement of British Conservatism.
I am not very surprised that I will not even be interviewed for the post, though I am a little disappointed. Of course I cannot say whether this is because of the stated reason (lack of relevant experience, which I consider nonsense) or because those doing the shortlisting did not like my answers to the application form questions. It is a shame that I won’t get a chance to go into my proposals in a little more detail with the interview panel.
In a comradely spirit, I publish here the main questions and answers in my application (leaving out the stuff about my experience, not least as it contains detail I would prefer not to have in the public eye, as that would potentially compromise organisations I currently do things with).
I do so in the hope that they might energize debate within Momentum and beyond about how best it and those it works with might use their resources to better effect than they do at the moment.
What is your vision for Momentum?
My vision is that, in around 30 months from now, perhaps on the 5th birthday of its formation, Momentum will formally agree to dissolve itself, on the basis of a democratic mandate to do so.
It will do so because it has achieved what it set out to do (a purpose renewed in early and mid-2017) which was to catalyse a wide range of community organizing actions which are not only self-sustaining but which interrelate rhyzomically with a wider range of political initiatives focused on establishing the institutional legitimacy of the broad labour movement as it competes for power and resource.
Alternatively, it may be that Momentum continues to exist, but at this five year the organisation decides to move from an explicit role of catalyzation towards being a technical resource base, in a way which reflects an appropriate devolution of power, via a pro-active process of empowerment. This may result in a change in the membership structure and financial model.
By the same 30 month point, the memberships of other factions of the other side of the labour movement, including Progress and Labour First, will be talking openly about their own voluntary dissolution, on the basis that they now see more gain for Labour from putting their considerable resources into supporting community organisation than they do pursuing an outdated and nostalgic versions of Labourism. There will be general recognition that this shift is taking place because of the shift in focus of Momentum.
What would be your priorities for Momentum in the next 12 months?
These should be the following priorities over the twelve months:
1) A fundamental reorientation of Momentum away from control and political direction of Labour party units, and towards community organising in two broad spheres
a) Development support to enable groups and supporters to shift from self-contained ‘resistance’ activities, in which only members participate, towards more pluralist ‘resilience’ actions, either by catalysing new forms or joining forces with other social activists. The list of such possible action areas is too long for here, and of course will be locally appropriate, but include development of environmental services, of low cost housing options etc., as well as representative functions like support for those under Universal Credit cosh and more traditional Unemployment Centre-style functions.
b) The start-up/recreation of institutions which claim a legitimacy parallel to those of the state, especially but not solely via Trades Councils, or where relevant through Community Associations, which display many of the feature of the better Overview & Scrutiny Committees in Councils but have a wider sphere of interest.
The restructure of the Momentum team will need to be in support of this re-orientation.
2) Development of a robust alternative to the Brexit negotiations, of a type which energises and draws in members quickly. Space does not permit logistical and legislative details here, but the focus should be on working with councils and mayoralties, and with MEPs, to push for powers to negotiate subnational deals with the EU’s negotiation team (based on Customs Unions and the four freedoms), building on early work being done around this (especially use of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 legislation which empowers councils to demand such powers).
3) The creation of an arms-length non-profit, in partnership with other like-minded bodies, to set standards for and ‘kitemark’ conduct and organisational standards within party units.
What is your vision for the Labour Party?
Any vision of Labour’s future must be seen in the context of the post-Brexit split within British Conservatism.
Even though Momentum-delivered local action may be successful in mitigating the worst of its effects, Brexit will hit us very hard.
As the economy crumbles, British Conservatism will split into an authoritarian wing, happy to repress the citizenry by a mix of brute force, racial divide-and-rule, and continued impoverishment sold as in the national interest, and a new form of liberalism (probably led by Osborne as he gears up for a bid for the London mayoralty) which welcomes immigration and free trade for the cities and other growth areas, but excludes the harder hit regions that voted for Brexit, on the basis that they are getting what they wanted. Labour’s first challenge is not to become irrelevant in the face of two competing Conservative visions.
Within this context, my vision of Labour is of a party once again committed, in the public mind, to serving all communities, inclusively.
To do this, we will need to shed some of the now outdated neo/pseudo Gramscian political practices of ‘war of position’ and ‘narrative building’, in favour of more openly inclusive deliberative practice (emerging from the social actions set in flow by Momentum over the next two years).
In turn, we will gain a broad level of support not from a loose ‘coalition’ of middle-class professionals and the ‘traditional working class’ — a false dichotomy — but from a wide group of people who have lived experience of these new forms of open political practice.
In short, we must turn from Gramsci (at least in adulterated form) and the 1980s New Left to Arendt and Habermas, by way of Paul Hirst and Harold Laski etc.
Why do you think you are the right person for this role?
When Momentum was first established in 2015, I offered to set up a local group in Skelmersdale with colleagues. At the time, I was told that this was not an acceptable footprint, as national coverage of all CLP areas was a priority, and that I would need to set one up covering this larger territory.
We declined, because communities do not organise like that, and got on with doing what I do.
To its great credit, Momentum has come to the difficult but quite conclusion that it needs to re-orientate back towards more genuine community activism, using its pool of talent to better effect. I am ready to play my part.
I am the right person to take the role because:
a) I bring no factional baggage and can reach across divides, just as I have done previously (see above);
b) I bring a fresh intellectual direction to Momentum and to the party as a whole;
c) I am the kind of unshowy but effective leader that Momentum needs now to build its capacity to do things differently;
d) I want to co-ordinate my way out of a job in 20 months, and take thousands of members with me on the road to effective social change.