4 reasons why Momentum’s new constitution isn’t democratic at all

The recent factional war in Momentum took a sharp turn this week following the announcement that a new constitution would be implemented by the organisation’s ‘Steering Committee’.

The proposals effectively dissolve the current structure and have stopped February’s democratic National Conference dead in its tracks. It is also being put forward on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, where the only way to oppose it is to resign ones’ membership.

An email sent to all members argues that the new rules make Momentum ‘…a grassroots, Labour-focused, campaigning political movement that can help Labour win power on a transformative platform’. They also implement a system where ‘key decisions’ will be made by a system of One-Member-One-Vote (OMOV), something pushed strongly by supporters of Jon Lansman, including journalists Owen Jones and Paul Mason, who both used their respective positions to promote this cause.

So does the new constitution deliver what it says? A quick read of it suggests that there might be more to it than meets the eye and I discovered the following:

1. The ‘NCG’ rules all

The constitution gives main responsibility for the governing of Momentum to the National Coordinating Group (NCG). As we’ll see below, most powers and legal responsibilities lie with this Group and it can essentially block any decisions that it doesn’t like without any consultation of the membership.

The NCG self-selects all of Momentum’s officers, meaning that the future chair, treasurer, secretary etc. will not be elected by the wider membership or be recallable by them.

Other notable NCG powers include the ability to refuse membership to anybody and derecognise any groups or networks that it does not like.

Most worrying of all, point 13 of the constitution allows it to do absolutely anything it wants and gives it: ‘Power to do all other things necessary to achieve the aims [of Momentum].

2. The NCG: Members are a minority and it barely uses OMOV

The NCG is composed of 28 members and of that; the membership has 12 spaces split between the 3 regional ‘divisions’.

Members not only make up a mere 40% of the NCG, but the remit of OMOV basically ends there.

The further 60% of the NCG is made-up by: 6 members from affiliated trade unions, 4 elected Labour officials (e.g. as MPs, MEPs, AMs, MSPs, Mayors), 1 from the Scottish Campaign for Socialism, 1 from Welsh Labour grassroots and 4 from the affiliated organisations listed in the constitution (one of which is Jon Lansman’s own blog, Left Futures).

All of these sections essentially select their representatives amongst themselves and none of these members of the NCG are accountable to the membership of Momentum in any conceivable way.

Furthermore, the NCG can co-opt 4 additional members at any time. Therefore, if a particular faction has a slender majority; it could add new members in order to bolster its position. In a more evenly split NCG, a faction could wait for a meeting where it knows it has a majority due to no-shows and co-opt a majority that way.

Effectively, the composition of the NCG ensures that members have less representation than under the current system of a ‘National Committee’ which is predominantly made up of members elected from local Momentum groups.

3. The ‘Members’ Council’ is a toothless poodle

The new constitution makes provision for a Members’ Council of 50 people chosen randomly by lot every 6 months, rather than by an election.

Its main responsibility is to encourage the ‘…development of activities, resources and campaigns for the use of Momentum members and groups’. I’m still not entirely sure what this means.

The Members Council seemingly has no discernable power. It’s stated that it ‘…may review decisions of the NCG’ and ‘…may make recommendations’ but all decision-making power still ultimately lies with the NCG who can ignore these recommendations.

4. Direct democracy isn’t very direct

I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have been excited by a Podemos-style ‘e-democracy’ and the current leadership of Momentum have often touted this as a new and exciting form of engagement, as opposed to the tedium of trot dominated meetings. However, anyone thinking that regular, member-led E-ballots will be the modus operandi of Momentum best not hold their breath.

Section 10 of the constitution outlines how ‘Direct Democracy’ will work. Firstly, it would seem that members will be unable to propose that Momentum takes a policy position and are only able to affect changes to the constitution, support for ‘a particular campaign’ and review the NCG’s decision on the former two.

Should a member wish to put forward a proposal, they will need the support of 1000 other members (or the equivalent of 5% of the membership, whichever number is smallest) in order for the NCG to consider it. The NCG may choose to put this proposal to an OMOV vote, or simply reject it. In order to guarantee a binding vote takes place, members need support from 10 % of members (currently c. 2000).

The constitution also requires that at least 30% of the entire membership agrees on OMOV proposals not supported by the NCG. Any proposals that the NCG agrees to send to an OMOV vote, however, require a simple majority of those voting.

The NCG clearly has the lion’s share of power when it comes to decision making and it is able to amend the constitution with a unanimous vote. It can amend it with a simple majority vote if it receives ‘legal advice’ that an amendment is needed for future affiliation to the Labour party or is ‘necessary to comply with the law’. Therefore a faction with a majority could impose major structural changes off the back of questionable legal advice — sounds familiar.

Conclusion

The new constitution in no way reflects the promises of the Lansman crowd that it would be modern and encourage decision making from the bottom-up. Its major selling point — a direct form of e-democracy — only applies to 40% of elections to its ruling body. For organisational issues, such as campaigns, it requires a mountain of bureaucracy to even go to a vote.

I had to re-read certain sections of the constitution several times over because of a genuine, and most likely intentional lack of clarity over certain sections, such as the Members’ Council. It is also full of vague protocol that will no doubt be open to the interpretation of the NCG, particularly around elections from the affiliated sections of it. It is basically open to abuse due to its lack of rigour.

The idea that this constitution is more democratic than the current model or other alternatives is laughable. The draw of having an OMOV system is considerably undermined by its significant limits and the centralisation of power to the NCG means that, contrary to what’s been promised, Momentum will be more top-down than ever before.

One part of the constitution says that: ‘… [Momentum] groups must be democratic in their nature and be organised around a spirit of collaboration, inclusion and respect’. Sadly, the rest of the organisation clearly isn’t going to be guided by this notion if Lansman and co are allowed to succeed.

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*This article was updated to clarify the level of support an OMOV vote needs if it is not supported by the NCG