What’s happened to Momentum groups?

The promise of the winning slate in the July 2020 Momentum NCG election to “rebuild from the ground up” needs to be revisited.

In July 2020, the Forward Momentum slate won the Momentum NCG elections and promised to “rebuild our organisation from the ground up”.

That was always going to be difficult. The winter 2020-1 Covid wave depressed activity. A lot of left-wing activists have scaled down activity, or dropped, from despair after the December 2019 election result, or disgust at Keir Starmer’s push to the right after he got elected leader on leftish promises and the ever-rolling succession of suspensions and expulsions.

Yet fewer left-wingers might have become inactive if they had seen Momentum doing effective work. Lockdown has been lifted sufficiently for street protests to multiply, a little surge of strikes to develop, and even an in-person Labour Party conference to be held, with a number of left-wing victories in policy votes.

And in mid-2020 Momentum was reported as having 20 paid staff. We at LLI have no paid staff: in fact all our committee do their LLI work alongside a lot of other labour movement tasks on top of day jobs. Momentum’s funds and staff give it a great advantage over other Labour left groups today and indeed over the Labour Party’s entire history.

As we understand it, Momentum’s paid-up membership has shrunk from a peak of 45,000 to 20,000. But 20,000 is still a lot.

What has been done in the way of “rebuilding from the ground up”? The Momentum Twitter account has recently given good coverage to the Sheffield couriers’ dispute and the UCU dispute. That’s good, though realistically no more than a keen keyboard warrior could do in their spare time.

Momentum had some presence at the Labour Party conference, but really less than LLI (with our much smaller material resources), and almost all focused on the rule-changes. Momentum even had an explicit policy there (decided by whom?) of “no position” on all the numerous and significant moves to refer back sections of the National Policy Forum report.

Momentum NCG minutes are posted on the Momentum website only with long and variable delays (the last ones available there are from 6 September). They are usually uninformative (lots of stuff on the lines of “X noted Y”), but they don’t look like the NCG has ever much discussed this “rebuilding from the ground up” business.

Some localities have seen interventions from the Momentum office apparently designed to help them rebuild, but few of them, as far we can see, effective.

We don’t have enough reach to give an overview, and maybe someone can give us information which changes the picture. But here are some examples of what we do now.

In Broxtowe, near Nottingham, an active Momentum group was rebuilt, precariously but rebuilt, over summer 2021. Recently all its members got messages saying that their group must merge into the Nottinghamshire group (a less active group, though covering a much bigger area). The Broxtowe people shrugged and went along with it, but the merger meeting was tiny. The Nottinghamshire Momentum Facebook page is updated occasionally, but advertises no meetings or activities.

Momentum in Leeds has revived a bit this year – it called a meeting on Right to Food on 2 November, it took a banner on the Leeds COP26 protest on 6 November – but little thanks to the Momentum office. And, as we understand, it has run into difficulties recently.

On the London COP26 protest, Momentum seemed to have “outsourced” its contingent to Camden Momentum, and it was small.

Southampton Momentum was one of the biggest and liveliest Momentum groups. Its meetings are now just a handful.
Momentum outsourced its bloc on London COP26 protest to Camden Momentum, and it was small.

Camden Momentum used to be a large, though maverick, group. It has someone who updates its Facebook page, but no indication on that page of it holding meetings.

Southwark Momentum was also large. Again, it has someone who updates its Facebook page, but no indication of meetings.

Sheffield Momentum was once large. It fell apart in 2019 and 2020 through internal conflicts (not the fault of the national office). We can find no sign of significant revival.

Lewisham Momentum was once a busy, active, pluralistic group. In 2018 a Stalinist-led group organised a split, and its splinter “Momentum” was immediately recognised by the national office. It had not much activity then, but some. Now its Facebook page shows only two posts (those “shares” from elsewhere, rather than its own posts) since November 2020.

Maybe other Momentum groups are doing better. In fact, there surely must be some that are doing better. But “rebuilding from the ground up” seems to have regressed rather than advanced since July 2020.

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