Will Forward Momentum or Momentum Renewal democratise Momentum?

The Anticapitalist Platform is proposing that Momentum holds an annual sovereign conference, where members can take charge of Momentum’s politics, strategy and constitution, ensuring that we decide what Momentum is and does. We think this is an essential baseline for members’ democracy.

Both the Forward Momentum (FM) and Momentum Renewal (MR) NCG factions recognise the importance of democracy and claim to be fighting to rebuild Momentum by “putting members in charge”, but have so far refused to commit to an annual sovereign members’ conference.

Momentum Renewal states: “In between years with NCG elections, there should be a biennial strategic review, with strategy papers circulated to groups and members to feed in, culminating in workshops and debate at Momentum’s conference”.  What is noticeably absent from this formulation is a commitment to any decision-making, suggesting this would simply be an elaborate consultation exercise that leaves the NCG rather than the membership in the driving seat.

Forward Momentum initially supported an annual conference. Their policy document ‘A Way Forward’ sets out proposals for an annual “strategy convention” to allow representatives from local groups to decide Momentum’s political strategy for the coming year, amend the constitution and aims of the group and “hold to account elected NCG members”.

However, in a meeting convened after the FM primaries, the elected candidates were joined by unelected individuals including Forward Momentum’s “Board” members and others personally invited by the Board to finalise FM’s platform. This sham “policy committee” voted two-to-one against including an annual conference in the FM platform.  So despite standing under the banner of an insurgent, grassroots democracy, Forward Momentum used an undemocratic policy-making process to drop their support for cornerstone of democracy in the labour and trade union movement – regular conferences where members make the decisions.

Shaping or deciding?

Both FM and MR emphasise expanded local decision making and initiative, but not national decision making. They obfuscate their lack of commitment to democracy through subtle language, speaking of members “shaping” policy, priorities and direction rather than deciding or voting on these. 

Under a Forward Momentum NCG, members will have a one-off chance to “reboot” Momentum’s structure at a convention in 2021. But in the meantime, the incoming leadership has huge powers of initiative to shape the run-up to the conference and the conference itself.  This will be even more true if the “refounding conference” takes place online, as suggested by the plan put forward on Momentum’s website. We have all seen how online meetings can be easily manipulated and controlled.

After all, the failure of digital democracy is precisely the story of Momentum since Jon Lansman’s 2017 “coup”, which wound up the local groups and annual conference and instead ran Momentum like an email list.  Without an annual conference, delegate-based regional bodies and the recallability of NCG members there would be nothing to stop the incoming NCG continuing with the same undemocratic practices as the old Momentum leadership.

Pop-up or permanent democracy

Forward Momentum has stated that it is a “time limited campaign” that will disband after the NCG election, trying to show its modern, pop-up democracy credentials, and insisting that members at large, not its candidates, will ultimately decide Momentum’s politics. There is nothing noble about standing for political leadership on the promise to disband. It’s hard to imagine leading organisers simply giving up the fight – nor should they, if they believe their own hype – so it only increases the likelihood that Forward Momentum will turn into an unaccountable clique.

Whether FM stays or goes, its elected candidates will certainly try to shape the refounding conference and Momentum after it with their own politics. The problem is that since they have proposed very little actual policy beyond reshaping Momentum’s structures, stuck to joint statements, and didn’t publish the membership or voting record of their “policy committee”, we don’t know what those politics are.

Forward Momentum’s emergence and successful campaign is testament to the membership’s desire for a change in direction. But what is on offer isn’t members democracy but tweaks to the current NCG-dominated, top-down structure.  For an iron-clad commitment to genuine members’ democracy, Momentum members should vote for Anticapitalist Platform candidates where we are standing (London and Yorkshire & the North).

Where Anticapitalist Platform candidates aren’t standing, Momentum members should demand answers from individual candidates on whether they will pledge to campaign for a sovereign members’ conference, and in the case of Forward Momentum, whether they will fight for a commitment to a sovereign conference at the re-founding conference in May 2021.