By Josh Lovell
It is now one year on since the Labour Party’s 2019 national conference – arguably the most radical Labour Party event in decades. Delegates passed resolutions committing the party to 2030 decarbonisation as part of a worker-led just transition, to support the abolition of academies, and private schools, and – arguably in its biggest shift on immigration policy ever – to defend and extend free movement, ensure voting rights for all UK residents, abolish No Recourse to Public Funds, and to close all detention centres (to name but a few).
What made some of these so distinct was that they were almost entirely led by grassroots campaigns and explicitly to the left of promises made in the 2017 Labour Manifesto – already touted as the most left-wing set of Labour proposals since 1983. Although the Labour’s “Clause 5” meetings undemocratically binned almost all of these when writing its’ 2019 Manifesto just one month later, these remain the Labour Party’s official position on climate change, education, and immigration.
But as with all democratic gains – they must be continually fought for and defended. The 2019 general election defeat was crushing, and the leadership election of Keir Starmer – who campaigned to maintain the radicalism of these policies – has sharply diverted attention away from such activist gains, towards far more modest and “respectable” proposals (that is respectable in the eyes of the ruling class). Within just one year it feels like the energy and enthusiasm of rank-and-file Labour members – who won so emphatically in Brighton – has been drained away. We cannot let ourselves lose the socialist militancy needed to build and win such a program.
The organised left, despite being on the back foot, has an urgent job before this is all canned entirely; defend conference democracy. Be that within local CLPs, union and momentum branches, activists must start putting pressure on to stop any further retreats; and this applies at all levels of our movement. Momentum – with around 25,000 members, and by far the largest organisation on the Labour left – undertook its National Coordinating Group (NCG) elections earlier this year, ending on the 1st of July. Since then, there have been positive steps towards some of the pledges made by the victorious ‘Forward Momentum’ slate, but crucially on the level of policy, the organisation has been inadequately vocal.
On paper Forward Momentum supported “defending and building on the 2019 manifesto: a Green New Deal, […], repealing all anti-trade union laws, advancing migrants’ rights, international solidarity, and more”. However in reality, Momentum’s main thrust has been towards winning a left-NEC and anti-evictions campaigning – both important and necessary tasks – but ones that cannot be done at the expense of keeping labour committed to fighting climate change, ending educational injustice, and radically expanding migrants’ rights.
The NCG – with a clear majority of Forward Momentum candidates – now must act to defend party democracy, make clear its own commitment to every single socialist policy passed at Labour Conference in recent years, and use Momentum to put their own campaign pledges into action. And with the NCG nearing its first 100 days milestone, Momentum members must call on them to do just this, and for them to empower local groups to take this battle into their local labour and union branches, in a struggle against the Labour right who would rather all Corbyn-era victories were totally quashed. Momentum can and must bring together the grassroots campaigns and activists to build a programme to defend and expand conference policy, ready for a clash at Labour’s 2021 conference, where without an organised presence, the left could be routed.
And in advance of that, the NCG must ensure that Momentum uses every opportunity it can to amplify struggles in line with conference policy, such as those demanding Labour Party support for EU residents’ Right to Stay, and anti-racist, anti-deportation battles such as the urgent one to Free Osime Brown, which sadly the organisation has been silent on. We need the Momentum NCG to come out swinging for grassroots activism, and party democracy.
Josh Lovell (pc) is on the steering committee of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, is a Momentum activist in Stevenage, and stood in Forward Momentum’s primaries on the Momentum Internationalists programme