The Momentum loyalty test is in the very best tradition of democratic centralism – not democratic socialism, Robert Philpot has the last word
There was something very fitting about the fact that, a year to the day after Momentum publicly mourned the death of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, it emerged that the organisation is intending to impose a loyalty test on the candidates it supports.
That test commits Momentum candidates not simply to a code of ethics, as some claim, but to a programme that is ‘subject to future policy development’ decided not by the Labour party and its members, but the leadership of a third party organisation.
In the very best tradition of democratic centralism – as Castro well understood, the emphasis is very much on the latter, rather than the former – Momentum believes the best decisions are those that are reached by a small cadre at the top.
That is why, for instance, Momentum decided to whip its delegates to this year’s Labour party conference to ensure the most pressing issue facing the country – Brexit – was kept off of the agenda. Pure politics lay behind this cynical decision: Momentum’s leaders did not want to expose the fact that Labour members – like Labour voters as a whole – are deeply opposed to Jeremy Corbyn backing Theresa May’s hard Brexit.
As Mike Creighton, Labour’s former head of compliance, argued this week, Momentum’s loyalty test is plain wrong: ‘The Labour party is the custodian of its own rules, procedures and, thereby, candidates. No third party, whether or not it is largely made up of Labour party members, can require a Labour party candidate to toe their particular line, for the exclusive benefit of their aims and objectives.’ Or as Mike Gapes, the member of parliament for Ilford South, put it more succinctly: ‘I joined the Labour party. I did not sign up to a Trotskyist party or a Stalinist cult.’
It is now also increasingly clear that Momentum will exact a price from those unwilling to pledge their loyalty to it.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the London borough of Haringey, where the group is bidding to take control of the council after next May’s elections. Each day, more news emerges of the wholesale purge – in which the grubby hand of the Socialist Workers’ party may even have played a part – of sitting Labour councillors who do not fit the tight Momentum mould.
Already more than a dozen councillors have been deselected or have decided not to seek re-election in the face of what one described as the ‘poisonous’ atmosphere surrounding the process. The local party has become ‘inflamed with division, distrust, and what at times feels like real hatred’, Tim Gallagher, who decided to step down last week, has suggested. All sides must share some blame, he noted, but ‘nothing excuses the aggressive purge that has taken place of all councillors not deemed to fit a flat-pack ideological mould’. Others speak of the ‘toxic and uncomradely environment’ in the local party and the ‘ruthless attacks on every councillor not officially backed by Momentum’.
James Patterson, a councillor who announced yesterday that he would not stand for re-election, likens the campaign Momentum has whipped up against a local development scheme to that waged by Vote Leave during the referendum. Their assertion that – despite huge government cuts – the council does not need to partner with private developers to build more housing and regenerate the existing social housing stock is ‘reminiscent of the claim that there would be an extra £350 million a week of NHS funding were Britain to leave the European Union’.
Indeed, the comparisons with the Brexiteers are eerie. As Adrian McMenamin, a Haringey party member and Labour’s former head of press and broadcasting, wrote for Progress yesterday, Momentum has ‘have taken power in the party locally by stating very clear what they are against, but have no realistic or positive programme for what they will do when they move on to the next stage and actually start running the council’.
In their rush to enforce ideological conformity, Momentum has run rough shod over diversity. Ali Demirci, the first Kurdish elected official in the United Kingdom, was forced out by Momentum on Wednesday night after 11 years service. Other victims of the purge include a young black man who grew up on the Broad Water Farm estate, went to university and became a member of the council cabinet; a primary school teacher who spent two decades working for the TUC’s adult education centre; and a retired working-class grandmother who formerly worked as a trade union negotiator.
Nor is the Haringey experience unique. In July, Samantha Jury-Dada – a young black LGBT woman – was purged in favour of a white man, ensuring that her ward in Southwark, which is 60 per cent BAME, will have no BAME Labour candidate contesting it next May. In Manchester, Carl Austin-Behan, the first openly gay lord mayor of the city, has been deselected.
In his first speech as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn promised a ‘kinder politics’. The hollowness of that long-tattered pledge was never more apparent.
It is probably a safe prediction that, had she been elected president last November, Hillary Clinton would not have spent this week defending a Republican Senate candidate accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and retweeting fascists. In fact, if you believed Susan Sarandon’s interview with the Guardian on Monday, Clinton – who, the actor assured us before the last election, was more ‘dangerous’ than Donald Trump – would not have had the time for any of that as United States would now be ‘at war’. Sadly, Sarandon’s geopolitical insights did not extend to pinpointing precisely which conflicts the peace-loving, level-headed current occupant of the Oval Office has kept the US out of which Clinton would have blundered into.
Thank you, Kate Hoey, for your efforts to raise the nation’s flagging morale. On Monday, the Vauxhall MP assured us that we need not concern ourselves too much with the knotty problem of the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Brexit would be such a success, the Labour Leaver told the Today programme, that the Irish would not be far behind us in wishing the EU adieu. Failing that, Hoey argued, Ireland would have to bear the cost of erecting a border between north and south. Perhaps the Irish should seek advice from Mexico on how to avoid paying for walls you do not want.
Robert Philpot is a contributing editor to Progress, and writes the weekly Last Word column. He tweets at @Robert_Philpot