Tag Archives: Labour Left Alliance

Chatham House ‘left’

Who stands for what and who says what – such basic information should not be treated as the private property of a select few. Derek James calls for openness

After over a year of ‘political lockdown’ following Labour’s general election defeat in 2019, the election of Keir Starmer as Labour leader and the continuing witch-hunt, the Labour left now stands at something of a crossroads. The ‘official left’, in the form of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and the left trade union officials, have largely kept their heads down, hoping perhaps for better days ahead. Wishful thinking!

The defeat of the Corbyn movement and the ascendancy of the Labour right has only produced demoralisation and disintegration on the Labour left. Leaving aside the expulsions and suspensions, thousands have left the party, either going into ‘activist campaigns’, such as ‘Kill the Bill’, or dropping out of politics altogether.

Groups that were established to organise the left in the Constituency Labour Parties and trade unions, such as the Labour Left Alliance, have also suffered from the same process of disorientation. In a series of online conferences, rallies and meetings since March 2020, comrades have come together to discuss how we might rally the Labour left and carry the fight to the right, but all that seems to have happened is a proliferation of networks and campaigns that have not gone very far.

It was in this light that the LLA’s organising group (OG) met on Saturday April 24, with ‘left unity’ high on its agenda. In particular, members of the OG were eagerly anticipating a report about recent developments and the news (first heard in March) that sections of the organised left in the party and trade unions had been meeting to discuss a strategy to reorientate and rebuild after the defeats we have suffered. From the start we in Labour Party Marxists had warmly welcomed these discussions and fully supported the participation of the LLA in any such initiative, especially if it aimed to develop a common left slate for future national executive committee and other internal party elections.

However, our hopes that this initiative might actually be based on the adoption of a serious and principled politics were dashed. The report from the LLA representatives who had attended the meetings and the discussion on the OG showed just how far away this ‘left unity’ project really is from such politics and – what was worse – how far the majority of the LLA leadership were willing to go along with it.

Everything that was reported back to the OG showed that this initiative, far from being a new beginning, is completely suffused with the restrictive political culture and bureaucratic methods of the official left. The meetings take place using the so-called ‘Chatham House rule’, which means that there can be no reporting of who attended and who said what.

Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is, of course, a bourgeois think tank that provides a platform for political insiders to express themselves with what for them amounts to a rare honesty. Current presidents are Baroness Manningham-Buller (former MI5 director), Lord Darling of Roulanish (former Labour chancellor) and Sir John Major (former Tory prime minister). The so-called Chatham House rule was adopted in 1927, and states: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held … participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”

LLA officers seem to have taken this to the point where the “information received” is itself to be guarded. Even the LLA’s own discussion on the left unity meetings finds itself going unmentioned in the OG’s official minutes. Unbelievable! Why the secrecy? Concealing political participants, political differences and political proposals from rank-and-file scrutiny is par for the course for the bureaucrats and careerists, but what has the authentic left got to hide? Why can’t we know who has been attending the left unity meetings and learn what they said? Reports are circulating that Shami Chakrabarti has chaired meetings, with leading trade unionists from Unite, the Fire Brigades Union, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union and representatives from over 30 Labour left groups. The state and Keir Starmer certainly know who was there: why can’t the rank-and-file members of the labour movement know as well?

The Chatham House rule should have no place in the workers’ movement. The left must tell the truth to the working class: when it comes to politics we have nothing to hide; democracy requires knowledge and the open expression of differences, not privileged access to information, gagging orders and a secret inner-circle of unknown individuals. After all, knowledge is power. It enables everyone in a democratic organisation to understand what is going on, make judgements and take action on the basis of all the facts, not just what a select few wants to let us know.

The LLA was formed by leftwingers who rejected the control-freakery of Jon Lansman’s Momentum project. Yet now, by going along with the vow of silence imposed by the official left, the LLA leadership is effectively colluding in the same secretive politics and bureaucratic manoeuvring. This ‘left unity’ project is already repeating the deficiencies of the previous form of left unity it is meant to replace – the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA), in which a stultifying unity is imposed from the top and from which the politics of the militant left are excluded. In last year’s NEC elections, the LLA rejected that position: why retreat now, by falling in behind the official left, when the need to assert an authentic left position is all the greater?


The cause of unity must go hand-in-hand with principle: if we simply repeat the compromises and bureaucratic politics of the past, this can only produce yet more defeats for the left.1 The authentic left should not be content to merely act as spear-carriers or voting fodder for the official left, but should instead put forward principled conditions for its support during any discussions about joint actions. In this spirit, supporters of LPM presented a motion to the LLA’s OG. Amongst its key sections was this argument:

The slate should have a clearly defined, principled basis, which all candidates must sign up to. While the specific demands can be defined during the discussions, they should include elements such as the rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) misdefinition of anti-Semitism, and the re-admittance of comrades suspended or expelled during both the ‘first’ and ‘second’ waves of the witch-hunt, along with democratic demands, such as ‘a worker’s MP on a worker’s wage’ and the accountability of the Parliamentary Labour Party to the NEC and the party conference.

The motion also put forward a clear strategy that the LLA should adopt during any negotiations about a common slate. Bearing in mind the strong showing of candidates the LLA supported during the 2020 NEC elections, LPM asserted that the LLA should have a candidate on any common left slate in a winnable position, not just a token slot at the bottom of the list. The LLA should not just go along for the ride: as far as LPM was concerned, it should not be a case of ‘unity’ at any price – essentially a repeat of “the tried and failed politics of the past that resulted in unacceptable compromises and countless retreats by the official Labour left”, as our motion put it. It concluded with a clear, principled position that, if an agreement on these terms cannot be reached amongst the left, the LLA should stand its own slate of candidates on a principled platform.

In the discussion, the same tendencies to compromise quickly became apparent. Although there was no objection to the specific demands that the LPM argued should be “the clearly defined, principled basis which all candidates must sign up to”, setting “conditions for our support during these discussions” was too rigid and would tie the hands of the LLA leadership, should they be lucky enough to be offered a seat at the negotiating table. We had to be flexible and not impose demands, we were told. Furthermore, by being insistent at this early stage, ‘the red lines’ LPM demanded would alienate potential supporters.

In response to LPM comrades’ demands for a clear and principled position, supporters of the majority of the OG suggested that we were not serious about any negotiations for ‘left unity’ and that, if the LLA adopted the LPM motion, it might result in the LLA’s exclusion from any future meetings. All familiar stuff for comrades who have been around the Labour left for more than five minutes – except this time the arguments for taking things gently and not frightening the horses came not from careerist MPs or trade union bureaucrats, but from comrades in the LLA leadership, who think of themselves as principled, left militants! The amendment that watered down the LPM motion was carried by 8 votes to 5 (no abstentions), with the substantive, neutered motion being passed by 9 votes to 5, with one abstention. Needless to say, our LPM comrades voted against the motion.

It is clear that the LLA leadership will not be informing its supporters, or its affiliated organisations, about these secret negotiations. It seems happy to treat the Chatham House rule as a ‘superinjunction.’ LPM comes from a different tradition, the tradition of openness and gaining strength by seeking out the truth. As Lenin put it: “publicity is a sword that itself heals the wounds it makes”.2 We, therefore, expose all the shady manoeuvres on the Labour left – from the split that led to two similar monthly publications called Labour Briefing to Jon Lansman’s Momentum coup in October 2016.

This was an approach applied by our co-thinkers who founded The Leninist in 1981 and it is one that our political current has upheld in the various attempts to unite the left since the 1990s, such as the Socialist Alliance, Respect and Left Unity.3 It is one that we shall continue to adhere to. We are obliged to inform the rank and file about what is going on behind their backs, and to arm them with the principled politics needed to build a militant, principled and well-informed left.

  1. weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1340/getting-our-act-together.↩︎
  2. marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/apr/30.htm.↩︎
  3. For the article in The Leninist, see communistparty.co.uk/who-we-are/reforging-the-cpgb-1981-present/founding-statement-of-the-leninist/. See also the Weekly Worker archive, and labourpartymarxists.org.uk/2012/05/31/divisions-surface-and-split-beckons/; labourpartymarxists.org.uk/2016/10/30/jon-lansmans-coup-in-momentum/↩︎

LRC and LLA: Recoiling from the challenge

Carla Roberts is puzzled by the decision of the Labour Representation Committee

The Labour Representation Committee has decided to withdraw from the Labour Left Alliance. As we understand it, this decision was reached at a meeting of its executive, but was far from unanimous. Graham Bash, for example, tells us he argued “strongly” against it.

In his article in last week’s Weekly Worker, he stated that “rebuilding the Labour left is a matter of extreme urgency”. Quite right. According to the LRC’s statement, however, launching the LLA in July 2019 – three and a half years after Jeremy Corbyn’s election – was “premature” and “a short cut”. We disagree. If anything, this launch has come very, very late – hopefully not too late.

Thanks to John McDonnell (who will remain president of the LRC despite his effective cooperation with the witch-hunters), there is now real pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to step down as Labour leader, should the party lose in the December 12 general election. Any candidate who wants to replace him will still require 10% of the votes of all MPs or MEPs. This remains a very difficult hurdle to clear for any leftwinger (not that there are that many). Sadly, in the hope of appeasing the right, Corbyn and his allies have refused to back measures that would help change the composition of the Parliamentary Labour Party – they instructed Len McCluskey to use his Unite block vote at the 2018 Labour conference to vote against the mandatory reselection of parliamentary candidates (aka ‘open selection’).

There was, of course, the earlier Grassroots Momentum initiative, which was set up just after the Jon Lansman coup of January 10 2017. But it was underorganised and, crucially, allowed the witch-hunting Alliance for Workers’ Liberty to participate – no wonder it came to nothing. After all, AWL members had helped Lansman to boot Jackie Walker off the leadership of Momentum (just before they in turn were booted off). Important lessons have been learned from this disaster: the LLA founding statement crucially contains the principled positions that it “opposes attempts to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism” and that it supports “the democratic and national rights of the Palestinians” – both demands that the AWL social-imperialists would not support.

The rightwing campaign against Corbyn and his supporters has been raging for over three years, but there is still no viable organisation that can exercise any real pressure from the left, as the politically corrupt selection process of parliamentary candidates is clearly demonstrating. Since last week, we have heard about three more leftwingers who were removed from their local shortlist – just before the hustings meeting that was voting on the parliamentary candidate. In South West Norfolk, the selected Labour candidate, Matthew Collings, was suspended one day after his election. The ‘evidence’ presented is, as can be expected, laughable: it includes support for Chris Williamson and Labour Against the Witchhunt. However, decisions reached because of the party’s “need to exercise due diligence” cannot be challenged – an affront to democracy, clearly.

So, while this is very strange timing from the LRC (which released its statement one day after the general election was called), its decision does not come as a great surprise to those involved in the LLA. We understand that the LRC’s representatives on the LLA organising group (OG) have been somewhat reluctant to get involved in actually building the initiative, despite being one of the two principal organisations (along with LAW) that set up the LLA back in July.

LRC’s statement contains a good number of inaccuracies, while giving the impression that it was somehow in a minority within the LLA and therefore could not achieve all the many good things it wanted to. And it mainly blames Labour Against the Witchhunt. Readers should keep in mind, however, that LAW only has three representatives on the LLA OG (which had over 30 members). The LRC, on the other hand, had its three national reps, plus three more from local LRC groups that had affiliated. The three delegates from Red Labour are also close to the LRC. Clearly, they could have easily outvoted LAW’s representatives on any issue, had they so wished.

It seems to us that, in reality, the LLA has developed more quickly, more successfully and with a stronger forward ‘momentum’ than the comrades had envisaged or could keep up with. The LRC is a rather slow and inert organisation, with very few active members (just over 100 made it to the last AGM). It argues that the LLA should not move beyond the stage of a network and should, under no circumstances, elect any officers. The flaws of such an untransparent structure of ‘volunteers’ taking initiatives (or not) have, however, become increasingly obvious in recent weeks, as the pressure to elect officers has grown.

The LRC’s inertia has, of course, a political basis. The organisation used to act as entirely uncritical cheerleaders of the official Labour left. With the left now running the party leadership, the LRC has come under increasing pressure to criticise the many political retreats and the ever-expanding witch-hunt in the party. But it is clearly struggling with that role: it is used to defending Corbyn, McDonnell and co, rather than criticising them. The LRC looks to us like an organisation at an important political crossroads and it could dwindle into oblivion pretty quickly. That is not something we would celebrate.

What are their arguments?

  • The comrades write that for them it has been “crucial to win trade union support”. But when a couple of LLA members proposed a strategy that would, for a start, organise our supporters in the unions, they opposed it. No other effort to win unions to the LLA has been made by the LRC, we understand.
  • They write that the LRC argued for “the insertion into the LLA statement of the clause ‘supports and encourages struggles against austerity and all forms of oppression’. While this met no opposition, it has not been reflected in the political proposals of those LAW comrades involved in the LLA project, whose sole emphasis seems to be on internal party matters. We feel that this shuts down the wider potential and ambition originally envisaged.”

    Well, it is not called ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’ for nothing, and it should therefore not come as a surprise that LAW would propose initiatives around trigger ballots, the selection process and the Chris Williamson case. The LRC, on the other hand, with its focus on “wider issues”, did not make any proposals at all – apart from inserting the above phrase.

  • The comrades criticise the fact that there has not been “space in the LLA to raise issues that should be the bedrock of Labour left organising – for example, whether solidarity with workers taking industrial action, international campaigns, opposition to climate change or defence of public services”.

    Now this is where things are getting a bit bizarre. We understand that LRC reps did not make a single proposal on any of those issues on the OG. Which seems to us would be the perfect “space” to make them. Or they could have used the three LLA Facebook groups in existence. In reality, LRC comrades have consistently argued against the LLA taking any positions on anything. They opposed LAW’s suggestion to discuss LLA’s political aims and campaigning priorities at the forthcoming conference, because the groups affiliated to the LLA “already have their own campaigns”.

  • They also charge “leading LAW comrades” of promoting “the formation of local LLA groups, rather than the – on paper – agreed approach of persuading existing, established and active local left organisations – whether Momentum, Labour Left or whatever – to affiliate.”

    We really struggle to see how that is a bad thing. Where the left in the Labour Party is not yet organised and therefore unable to efficiently and effectively organise in the party, clearly the point of a national Labour left is to support exactly the formation of such new groups?

  • Rather weirdly, they then claim that LAW representatives demanded that, in order to affiliate, unions would have to have a “minimum of members” who were “individual, signed-up LLA supporters”.

    Labour Against the Witchhunt has published its draft constitution for the LLA and this is what was proposed on this issue: “All national trade unions can appoint up to three representatives once they have paid the affiliation fee of £500/annum.” At no point has there been any other proposal, based on numbers of affiliated LLA supporters in a particular union. This claim by the LRC is just nonsense – based presumably on a serious misunderstanding.

  • Last but not least, we are told that the “emphasis” of LAW comrades is “that small left groups should be encouraged to affiliate to LLA, while questioning the affiliation of broader, genuine Labour left groups like Red Labour and Grassroots Black Left.”

    Here the comrades are being rather economical with the truth. We understand that LAW comrades raised the question as to why Marxist groups active in the Labour Party – for example Socialist Appeal, Labour Party Marxists or Red Flag – should be barred from the LLA (as demanded by the LRC), while groups like Red Labour, which barely exists even as an online endeavour, should unquestioningly be allocated three representatives on the OG. This was raised, discussed and then put aside within two days. Clearly, this is an issue that can be resolved at the LLA conference in February.

We repeat: it is a shame that the LRC has decided to jump ship, especially at this crucial time in the civil war and the witch-hunt. Many LRC members have expressed disagreement with this decision online and it is good to see that the departure has – so far – not harmed the LLA. It might actually help it to move forward at a quicker pace and allow it to set its sights far higher. In which case the LRC will hopefully come back on board soon.

Can Momentum be reformed?

There are now more reform groups in Momentum than owners. But, asks Carla Roberts, can they succeed?

We must admit that, from the outset, trying to reform Momentum in any meaningful way looks to us very much like the kind of punishment we can safely leave to King Sisyphus. It is a huge task, destined to fail.

Having said that, Jon Lansman, owner of Momentum, is clearly displaying signs of having come under some kind of pressure somewhere. His attempt to get rid of Tom Watson with a motion on Labour’s national executive committee (that he then withdrew), for example, was probably a sign that he is trying to pose left. We write ‘probably’, because the man has done so many weird things that we cannot always guess his motivation without going down to psychological levels. (Pride of place takes his embarrassing campaign last year to become general secretary of the Labour Party – against Jennie Formby, who was favoured by not just the mighty Unite union, but also Jeremy Corbyn himself. And when he withdrew, Lansman claimed that his only motivation in standing was “to increase the gender balance” – oddly enough, by standing against a woman!).

In any case, we have recently seen three attempts to make Momentum more democratic.

Starting with the least serious one, in June we spotted an article on the website Red Flag (which is where the dwindling remnants of Workers Power have gone to die). Jeremy Dewar wrote that “up and down the country Momentum groups are the backbone of the leftwing membership; organising campaigns, turning out for elections, taking control of local parties and turning them outwards”. The article argued that those super-active Momentum members should fight “for a sovereign conference”. This article is still doing the rounds on Facebook, somewhat bizarrely in our view.

Then, in July this year, a small group of people around Pat Byrne launched their ‘Call for membership control of Momentum’. They at least take note of a few recent qualitative changes within the organisation, like Jon Lansman’s witch-hunting campaigns against Chris Williamson MP and Pete Willsman. However, the comrades are more than naive in their assumption that “Momentum does not belong to Jon Lansman, but to all of its members!” This surely is the main thing that everybody does know about Momentum: it actually does belong to Lansman! Literally! He has tight control over the various companies that control the data and the income.

While Byrne and his comrades admit that Momentum’s constitution “is certainly very centralised”, they believe that its members should make use of the very limited democratic space within it: they should stand for the biennial elections to its national coordinating group (NCG), use the “many avenues in social media for reaching the membership” and get involved in the “the local Momentum groups”.

Their main focus though is on the “procedures for petitions” and “constitutional amendments” that members should make full use of. However, they fail to remind their readers that those petitions and amendments to the constitution require the support of at least “5% of members or 1,000 members”! And if there is no majority on the NCG in support of such a proposal, it then needs “a petition signed by 10% of the membership” in order to “trigger a vote among all members”. This is never going to happen.

In our view, both these proposals come well over two and half years too late. Back then, Jon Lansman stopped “a sovereign conference” from taking place, abolished all existing structures and imposed his undemocratic constitution on the organisation: the Lansman coup of January 10 2017. There are no structures, no avenues left to even fight for a “sovereign conference”. And there remain hardly any functioning Momentum branches. Many groups split in the aftermath of the imposed constitution, others dwindled and died a slow death and some of the few remaining branches have affiliated to the Labour Left Alliance or are in the process of doing so.

Momentum 4 Corbyn

At least the newly established ‘Momentum 4 Corbyn’ does not bother with such illusions – though that is the best thing we can say about it. We understand that the main people behind this campaign, which went public on October 3, are three Momentum NCG members, Barry Gray (who is also acting secretary of Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and a member of the Socialist Action sect), Liz Smith and Christine “fuck the unions” Shawcroft. Shawcroft, remember, went along with the Lansman coup and, when she was still a member of Labour’s NEC, voted to refer Jackie Walker to Labour’s national constitutional committee for expulsion.

On its website, Momentum 4 Corbyn identifies Momentum’s main problem as follows:

Momentum was set up in 2015 in order to support the agenda of Jeremy Corbyn. It is the continuation of Jeremy’s leadership campaign, which resulted in him being elected Labour leader in September 2015 and re-elected in September 2016. Unfortunately Momentum is now diverging from its original purpose; on some issues it fails to support the Labour leadership and on others it even opposes the leadership.

The group’s mission statement praises Corbyn like the second coming of the messiah: “Jeremy is putting forward a truly radical transformative agenda for a Labour government that will make people better off”, etc, etc. Momentum must “return to its original role as a supportive defender of the political agenda that Jeremy Corbyn is advancing”. The comrades want to (re)build a Corbyn fan club, in other words. To that effect, they put forward a long list of ‘evidence’ to prove where “Momentum” (they never mention Lansman) has strayed from Corbyn’s holy script.

To their credit, they do mention the witch-hunt in the Labour Party, though only in the shape of the direct attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. “Momentum appears to give credence to the exaggerated claims made by Labour’s political opponents, conveying a distorted picture of the real situation.” But, you see, “Jeremy is a supporter of international social justice, including Palestinian human rights. There is nothing remotely anti-Semitic in his opposition to the violence inflicted on the Palestinians.”

But what about Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Chris Williamson or even the CLPD’s Pete Willsman, who remains suspended on bullshit charges? They do not even mention those comrades: it is all about the leader.

Momentum 4 Corbyn does not seem to grasp the simple fact that Corbyn has been complicit in this witch-hunt all along. Not only has he watched silently as comrades Walker, Wadsworth, Willsman and now Chris Williamson have been thrown to the wolves by the NEC. He has legitimised the whole witch-hunt by agreeing with the right in and outside the party that there is a huge problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. By asking Shami Chakrabarti to produce a report, he first opened the doors and showed how vulnerable he is to the witch-hunt – and he has since presided over one climbdown after another.

Corbyn fan club

This underlines that a Corbyn fan club is, at best useless. At worst, it perpetuates the witch-hunt and makes matters for the left (and Corbyn) considerably worse. We desperately need a Labour left that can openly and publicly challenge Corbyn and exert pressure on him from the left. This is, of course, not what Lansman is doing – he has joined those pressurising Corbyn from the right.

Some might say that it is lucky then that the way Gray, Smith and Shawcroft are going about their campaign means it is unlikely to succeed. Their only strategy consists of putting forward candidates to the November NCG elections who “consistently campaign for Jeremy and his politics, not for any alternative agenda”. No names have been published yet, but we believe the NCG three are about to present some very soon (though if a general election is called “by the end of October”, Momentum’s NCG elections will be postponed until next year).

This is exactly the discredited method of the so-called ‘Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance’ (which, if it has not already imploded, will surely do so now). Until recently, this is where soft-left Labour groups, including the CLPD and Momentum, got together to haggle over which centre-left candidates they should urge their members to vote for. The rightwing NEC member, Ann Black, was on the CLGA slate for decades.

It is therefore not surprising that this group has almost nothing to say, when it comes to “internal democracy”, apart from voting for its recommended NCG candidates. All power to the NCG, basically. However, only 20 of the 34 seats on this body are actually elected by members. The rest are made up of:

  • four Momentum members who are Labour public officer holders;
  • six members nominated by affiliated trade unions;
  • four members nominated by other affiliated organisations.

Jon Lansman has made sure that the NCG will never be able to decide on any democratic changes (unless he wants it to). Any changes have to be made by a unanimous vote on that body. A proposal brought by an NCG member that is rejected even by one other person on the NCG will also have to be supported by “10% of the membership”. Then there is the next hurdle: Lansman is in full control of that database and can (and obviously has done so) manipulate elections as he pleases.

In June 2019, Momentum members were asked to participate in a ‘democracy ballot’ to make “Momentum more members-led” and “improve accountability”. There were three concrete proposals “coming from the national coordinating group meeting in March”: one to decrease democracy by having elections to the NCG every two years instead of annually; the second to expand the number of people elected onto the NCG from 12 to 20; and the third to increase the number of regions from three to five. Thrilling stuff.

An embarrassingly measly 357 people bothered to vote 1)Email from Momentum, June 21, 9am – and, as Momentum never takes anybody off their database, we know this poll was literally sent to tens of thousands of people, including many who had long stopped making payments to the organisation.

As the proposal to move to biennial elections was not approved by the NCG unanimously (but opposed by Gray, Smith and Shawcroft and a couple of others), it had again to be sent to everybody on the database. This time, in September 2019, the number of participants magically rose to 4,150. It took a staggering four months to make a decision on a couple of nonsense proposals that could be summed up in five short words: an absolute waste of time.

Momentum 4 Corbyn complains – now! – that “the conduct of the ballot itself raises questions about democracy in Momentum, as only an argument in favour of this measure to reduce democracy was presented to members, and the proposal was falsely dressed up as a ‘democratising’ proposal. No alternative view was circulated to Momentum members by the NCG.”

Fair enough, but why did these NCG rebels not come out publicly at the time? Where are their reports of the NCG meetings they have been attending for years? Where is their public criticism? Where is the transparency in their campaign? How can Momentum members actually get involved? They cannot, obviously – apart from voting for the NCG members chosen by Barry Gray and co. A democracy campaign utterly devoid of any democracy, in other words.

And what is their solution to the lack of democracy in Momentum elections? Fasten your seatbelts. We can read in the July NCG minutes that Barry Gray wanted the Electoral Reform Service to run internal Momentum elections instead. The idea was rejected by the NCG by seven votes to five.


Momentum certainly filled a political vacuum when it was launched just after Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership elections in 2015. It attracted not just the young, relatively inexperienced crowd who became caught up in the Corbynmania, but also many of the seasoned Labour left activists who had been re-energised by the victory of a self-declared socialist. At its height, Momentum claimed to have 35,000 paying members (and a database of many more tens of thousands). This figure might or might not be based on fact, but we can be certain it is a lot lower now. Not that it is something Jon Lansman – founder, owner and all-round puppetmaster of Momentum – would openly publish.

We can glean from the accounts submitted for Momentum Campaign Ltd that the company claims to have had £145,659 in its various bank accounts at the end of December 2018, which is about £6,000 more than the year before. It also claims to have 21 employees, but, as it has paid a measly £19,205 in “taxation and social security” combined, we do not think many of them can be earning much (the figure stood at just over £42,000 the year before). You cannot actually work out how much in membership fees the organisation has received. But we do know that thousands, if not tens of thousands, have left Momentum.

Lansman has to be held personally responsible for this wasted opportunity. But in our view, that ship has now sailed. Sure, Momentum’s various bits of software and the huge database might still come in handy in a general election campaign. But the left should not waste any more time trying to rescue or reform this shell of a an organisation.

We believe that the nascent Labour Left Alliance is far more likely to have caused some of Jon Lansman’s recent, pseudo-left poses. Over 1,500 people have now signed up to the campaign, as have more than 20 Labour left groups and four Momentum branches. Clearly, building a viable, democratic and transparent Labour left is the best way to challenge and overcome anti-democratic left wannabe dictators like Jon Lansman.


1 Email from Momentum, June 21, 9am

One small step forward…

The Labour Left Alliance held its first national networking meeting in Brighton. Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists reports

Almost 100 people crammed into the first networking meeting of the Labour Left Alliance on September 25, which took place after the close of Labour Party conference in Brighton. Despite the fact that conference finished early, with Jeremy Corbyn’s speech having been moved one day forward because of the recalling of parliament, there clearly was a huge desire to find the way forward for this nascent organisation.

The meeting started with a useful discussion on this year’s conference, which can probably best be summed up as a ‘mixed bag’ from the left’s point of view: on the one hand, Jeremy Corbyn delivered a rousing speech, designed to please the much-neglected left in the party. We also saw conference voting for the free movement of people (though Dianne Abbot seems to have immediately backtracked on this and it remains to be seen if this policy makes it into the election programme), plus the disaffiliation of the rightwing Labour Students in the run up to conference, and we witnessed the first organised intervention of the LLA, calling for a protest against Tom Watson, who then cancelled his conference speech (more on that below).

On the other hand, there were also a number of setbacks and problems for the left:

LAW fringe conference 2019In the run-up to conference, a vicious campaign against the anti-witch-hunt left had led to the cancellation of various venues booked by Jewish Voice for Labour, Labour Against the Witchhunt and the Labour Representation Committee. However, in record time, comrades from the newly established Brighton Labour Left Alliance worked absolute miracles and booked the Rialto Theatre to allow some of the cancelled meetings to take place. They even worked out a programme of ‘Free Speech events’ that went beyond what was planned in the first place. Over three days, they managed to put on a range of exciting events, featuring Chris Williamson MP, Jackie Walker, Kerry Anne Mendoza and others. The venue of LAW’s main fringe event had to be kept secret, but, with almost 200 people attending, it was standing room only. The left showed that it will not be cowed or intimidated.

Conference itself saw a tightening of the disciplinary procedures, which gives the national executive committee the right to fast-track the expulsion of members accused of having been “inconsistent with the party’s aims and values, agreed codes of conduct, or involving prejudice towards any protected characteristic”. No doubt, the NEC hopes that this will finally put an end the ‘anti-Semitism crisis’ in the Labour Party, but many people at our meeting feared that this is likely to lead to exactly the opposite: “We expect there to be many more vexatious complaints being made by the right against Corbyn supporters”, as LAW’s Tina Werkmann put it. Also, as the NEC last year adopted the highly disputed definition of anti-Semitism published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, we can expect to see a rise in allegations made against those who are critical of Israel, rather than guilty of any actual anti-Semitism.

Comrade Werkmann explained that only four members of the entire NEC had voted against the proposals: Darren Williams, Rachel Garnham, Yassamine Dar and Ann Henderson – all CLP delegates, who had been elected as part of the ‘left slate’ backed by the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance.

However, the four other CLGA members representing CLP members on the NEC voted in favour of fast-track expulsions: Momentum owner Jon Lansman (no surprise there) and his hangers-on, Navendu Mishra (now selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate in the safe seat of Stockport), Huda Elmi and Claudia Webbe. The latter’s vote is perhaps the most worrying, as she is the current chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy – whose secretary, Pete Willsman, of course, remains suspended from the party (and the NEC) on utterly bogus charges!

No doubt, Willsman’s case (and those of Chris Williamson MP, Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker, etc) is exactly the reason why Lansman voted for these changes: there is no love lost between the Momentum owner, Willsman and many of the other veteran Corbyn supporters who have been witch-hunted and smeared, and Lansman is keen to get rid of Williamson and Willsman – he has openly said so, after all.

Conference also voted to dramatically reduce the input of Labour Party members into the Local Campaign Forums. LCFs bring together local party branches and are responsible for selecting Labour’s council candidates, while also giving members at least a chance to question their councillors (though they have not been accountable to members for a long time). They are now to be called ‘Local Government Forums’ and the composition will change quite dramatically. There will be three “sections”, made up of members of the local Labour group of councillors, CLPs and locally affiliated trade unions. While those sections might differ dramatically in size, they will have equal voting rights.

This rule change was snuck through conference as part of a number of proposals by the NEC that were supposed to ‘tidy up’ any outstanding issues from last year’s so-called ‘Party Democracy Review’. In reality, very few rules in the party have been democratised as part of this exercise – but many have been made worse. This no doubt reflects the pressure from the right and the unions on Labour HQ.

Many LCFs have been taken over by the left in the last two years, mirroring the slow but persistent growth and organisation of the left within Labour. In many areas, councillors have come under increasing pressure from the local members to reflect the changing nature of the party. Labour councillors have not only implemented the draconian cuts imposed by the Tory government, but have done so willingly and without even the hint of a fight-back. Many Labour-run councils have enthusiastically embraced outsourcing – ie, bringing cut-throat private companies in to take over services that the council used to provide. As these companies are based on the need to make a profit, they end up providing fewer and worse services, while charging more money for it. That is the basic logic of capitalism.

Worryingly, both these rule changes were submitted by the NEC and were only presented to delegates (as part of a 225-page report by the conference arrangements committee) a few hours before they were meant to be voting on them. There is clearly a huge democratic deficit when it comes to conference, and especially many first-time delegates at our LLA meeting reported feeling utterly confused and overwhelmed by this experience. We discussed setting up a working group that could help to better prepare delegates for next year’s conference and to help LLA members get to grips with the party’s rule book. We also discussed the need for the LLA to prepare some decent rule changes from the left that CLPs could adopt for next year’s conference.

What to do about the unions?

The meeting also discussed the huge and very visible divide at conference between the union block and the CLP delegates. The tightening of the disciplinary rules, for example, was – very encouragingly – rejected by a majority of CLP delegates. But an overwhelming majority of the unions voted in favour. Ditto when it came to the efforts to re-establish the old clause four, abolished by Tony Blair: a majority of delegates from CLPs voted yes – but the rule change was defeated by the affiliates.

There were in fact a number of occasions when, for example, a clear majority of people in the hall raised their hand in favour of a motion, but then the chair ruled that the vote had in fact been lost. This was down to the fact that the party’s affiliates’ vote counts for 50% of the entire vote at conference – even though there are far fewer delegates from the affiliated unions and socialist societies present. This led to huge dissatisfaction among particularly first-time CLP delegates, who felt that they were being disenfranchised.

Unsurprisingly, a number of speakers at our LLA networking meeting therefore raised how important it is to democratise the unions and their input into party conference as well as the Labour Party more generally. Some comrades in the room volunteered to produce a draft campaigning strategy on what is a huge issue.

After this discussion, Lee Rock (a representative of Sheffield Labour Left on the LLA organising committee) gave a very useful report about the current state of the Labour Left Alliance. Over 1,400 individuals have now signed up to the appeal (“when we launched the appeal, we were hoping to have 1,000 by conference”) and over 20 LLA local groups have affiliated, with another dozen or so being currently set up. In addition, LLA is supported by four national organisations: LAW, LRC, Red Labour and the Campaign for Chris Williamson. The LLA organising group has grown to over 30 members, which, according to comrade Rock, “can make it very difficult to come to decisions”. In his presentation, he raised the need for the organisation to have elected officers with clearly defined roles.

This was a theme that was reflected in the next session: how the LLA should move forward. Three discussion papers had been drafted and circulated to all LLA signatories in the run-up to our meeting and were dealt with at some length:

Kevin Bean of Merseyside Labour Left Alliance spoke on the proposal coming from LAW, Sheffield Labour Left and Merseyside LLA itself, which argues that the LLA should swiftly move to a “more accountable structure”, with a constitution and elected officers. “The tyranny of structurelessness is very dangerous,” he warned. “There are always some people in charge – but without proper structures, elections and accountability, we cannot hold them to account.”

Cathy Augustine outlined the proposal of the Labour Representation Committee that the LLA “should remain a network for the time being and without any elected officers”. She thought that “the current system of volunteers taking on various aspects of the work functions well”.

Tony Greenstein, a member of the newly established Brighton Labour Left Alliance, admitted that his proposal was more of a “stream of consciousness” born out of the desire to move forward quickly. He suggested that the LLA should swiftly establish a membership structure and start employing a part-time worker to move the organisation forward.

In the somewhat unfocused discussion, most people seem to support the need for better and more democratic structures. Glyn Secker of the affiliated Dulwich Labour Left (and secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour) argued that we should adopt a “clear and short constitution as soon as possible”. JVL had got off the ground within a few short months, but we had to act quickly to “counter the attacks by the right”. LAW’s chair, Jackie Walker, suggested that we need structures, but could, for example, do without a permanent chair and vice-chair: “Why don’t we simply pull a name from a hat?” That suggestion would only work, of course, if the person is up to speed with all the arguments, motions and amendments that have been submitted.

Tom Watson walkout

The most bizarre intervention was made by Andrew Berry of the LRC. In his three minutes, he solely argued against a comrade who had earlier congratulated the LLA on its hastily produced leaflet, ‘Shun Tom Watson’.

Shun Tom Watson 3This leaflet explained that a number of delegations were planning to walk out during Watson’s speech, while others were planning to sing “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”. (As an aside, Unite delegates were apparently intending to ‘sit on their hands’ – a rather lame tactic, which, as one sarky commentator at conference put it, “sounds like it could be a Monty Python sketch”.) A WhatsApp group with over 60 people from various delegations and left groups swiftly sprang up during conference and worked closely together to plan for the action. Almost 1,000 copies of a quickly produced LLA leaflet were handed out to delegates and visitors by LLA supporters – and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. Funnily enough, the only negative reaction came from members of (how to say this nicely?) longer established groups on the Labour left, who angrily told us, “unless we can win this, we should not organise such stupid stunts”. Self-defeating attitude or what?

In any case, when the CAC reorganised the conference agenda after the recall of parliament, it moved Tom Watson from Tuesday to Wednesday and offered him the opportunity to close conference. But we have been told by a journalist that at the Tuesday morning press conference Labour’s press officer, James Schneider, let slip that Watson was literally begging the CAC to take him off the agenda altogether, because he did not fancy much being left alone in the conference hall with a bunch of hostile lefties.

The Metro, which has a reach of 3.65 million readers, reported it this way: “Tom Watson has pulled the plug on his proposed speech at the Labour Party conference after reports that activists were planning to stage a huge walk-out.” Next to the article, they published the whole LLA leaflet. Watson later announced in the Jewish Chronicle: “I was going to attack Corbyn’s failure to address anti-Semitism in my Labour conference speech.”

TUESDAY 2019 PDFFrom our interaction with delegates and observers (LPM comrades handed out the LLA leaflet and our daily Red Pages bulletin with a similar front page), we believe that such a speech would have gone down at conference like the proverbial fart in a space suit. We have no doubt that many of those who were a bit wary about walking out might have changed their mind if they had witnessed such an attack from the platform. So it seems a no-brainer that we should celebrate such an early success for the LLA, even if the Metro might have simplified the issue a bit.

However, Andrew Berry thought we were “fooling ourselves if we think this has anything at all to do with the LLA or its leaflet” (which he opposed). With this negative attitude we will never build anything worthwhile.

Of course, this was only a networking meeting without any decision-making authority, but it was an important start to discuss the way forward for the LLA. We also heard proposals:

  • To hold a proper, decision-making LLA launch conference in early 2020 (this is now being planned).
  • To set up a working group that helps to prepare for next year’s conference, produces guidelines for (new) delegates and draws up a number of useful rule changes for CLPs. There was also a suggestion that the left has to make sure it books a ‘safe space’, where it can hold events without having the meetings cancelled or disrupted by pro-Zionists and rightwingers.
  • To approach all prospective Labour Party candidates with the simple question, ‘Will you support Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister?’ and then publish their answers to help comrades decide which candidates they should be campaigning for. Not a bad idea, in our view.

A pro-active approach is certainly better than the empty calls for ‘unity’ we have heard from the ‘moderates’ or the self-defeating view that, unless we “win”, we should not even try to fight

Sign up! Appeal to build a democratic Labour Left Alliance!

Important new development – please get involved!

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn put his name forward to stand as leader of the Labour Party there has been a massive campaign to undermine and remove him by the Tories, elements of the establishment and the right in our own party, with backing from the overwhelming majority of the mainstream media. Of the numerous unfounded smears thrown at Corbyn – being too scruffy, not bowing deep enough, being a Czech spy etc – those around antisemitism have been one of the most consistent avenues of attack.

They have not had everything their own way – Moshé Machover was readmitted to the party after a major campaign and their attempts to move against Lisa Forbes, now the MP for Peterborough, before and after her election have not succeeded. Momentum nationally is no longer on the side of the left in these battles and this has become increasingly clear – as has its own lack of democracy.

There is an urgent need to take steps to unite the genuine, democratic Labour left. We are committed to making this process open, democratic and transparent. We want to involve as many principled local, regional and national Labour left organisations and union bodies as we can.

We are not saying anyone should resign from or disaffiliate from Momentum to participate. But one of our concerns is that if we don’t act now people who joined to support Corbyn will leave in disillusion. The need to move at pace must be balanced with the need to build in a democratic and sustainable way. Two national organisations (the Labour Representation Committee and Labour Against the Witchhunt) and a number of local groups have already signed up to this initiative and we are having positive discussions with many more.

We encourage all comrades not already members of local Labour Left groups to get involved in one or help set one up. We will gladly help you to find a speaker, advertise your meeting or assist in any other way we can.

Labour belongs to us – let’s unite and fight for our party!

Click here to read and sign up to the appeal!