This month we bring you news of a landmark referendum in Berlin, a Q&A with a Momentum member and housing activist in Waltham Forest and we run through the highs and lows of Labour Conference 2021. Enjoy.
Labour Conference 2021. The first Conference after losing the leadership was never going to be easy for the left. There was one serious loss: the raising of the threshold for MP leadership nominations from 10% to 20%, which will make it more difficult (but as Stats4Lefties explains further down certainly not impossible) for there to be a socialist candidate next time around. But otherwise there was lots to be encouraged by. Throughout the four days we really showed our strength, passing a democratic rule change that effectively ends the imposition of parliamentary candidates by the NEC for snap and by-elections, and passing numerous radical policy motions comfortably, proving that our ideas are popular throughout the labour movement. For more on Conference, read our special report below.
Star of the show. A few hundred metres down the road from Labour Conference, the World Transformed was a hit once again. Every attendee we spoke to came away from the festival feeling rejuvenated – happy they had seen old comrades, and intellectually nourished by the quality of discussion and debate. If you weren’t able to make it, then you can catch up with the talks on The World Transformed’s YouTube channel. TWT is one of the most important institutions created during the Corbyn era (alongside Momentum, of course) and we as a movement need to do all we can to ensure it grows from strength to strength. If you can afford to, please consider donating here.
Renters united. The results for Die Linke may have been disappointing in the national elections, but in Berlin there was one victory that made everyone stand up and notice. A majority of Berliners voted to expropriate big corporate landlords and place the homes back into the hands of the public. If the expropriation goes ahead – and there is still a fight to be had over whether it will – 250,000 homes will be stripped from some of the city’s biggest landlords. A win for tenants everywhere. Congrats to our German comrades on an amazing victory.
Abolish the Met. Last week, details of Sarah Everard’s murder emerged at the sentencing of her killer Wayne Couzens. The police officer had arrested her on the pretext that she had flouted Covid regulations, using his police warrant card and placing her in handcuffs. Sisters Uncut led a protest outside the Old Bailey on the day of the sentencing, sharing damning statistics about police violence and calling for the immediate halting of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is working its way through parliament. This is not a case of just one bad apple, but of a rotten and unsalvageable institution that needs to be abolished for good.
• Our movement came together and launched an impressive rearguard action in Brighton. Thank you to the hundreds of socialist delegates who passed a fantastic programme of amazing socialist policy and a brilliant rule change that ends the NEC imposition of candidates in snap and by-elections.
• Watch Momentum co-chair Gaya Sriskanthan at TWT talk on the panel ‘Starmer out? And if so how?’. She nailed it, and so did fellow NCG members Mish Rahman and Darran Mclaughlin when they made contributions from the floor.
• Solma Ahmed was also brilliant in the ‘Sarah Everard: state, violence and gender’ discussion, which you can watch here.
• Momentum Community is hosting an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Wednesday 13 October at 7pm with Gaya Sriskanthan, Darran Maclaughlin, Shona Jemphrey and Mish Rahman to talk about what happened at Conference. If you haven’t signed up to Momentum Community then you can do so here.
If you want your local group activity to be included in The Organiser then please email us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you.
Brenda Stephenson is the City of Durham CLP Women’s Officer – and was one of the socialist activists who successfully moved the motion to end the NEC imposition of candidates in snap and by-elections. We talked to her about how it all happened.
Why did you decide to move the motion?
We’re a broadly left wing CLP, and most of the executive, even those who are not on the left, have real concerns about democracy within the party. The issue is fundamentally about democratic rights and being treated with respect as a member.
We had personal experience of this ourselves as at the last election our existing MP resigned. A swift election was imposed on us but our CLP executive reacted really quickly to what we would need to do in order to have our own selection process. But we were denied that possibility by Labour North and the NEC, and ended up having a selection where only one member of our CLP was included and someone else who was actually from the left, being excluded. It caused a great deal of bad feeling.
How was the experience of actually moving the motion at Conference?
I was very grateful to Rachel (Momentum staff) for her suggestions, and also to Laura Lunn-Bates, who is a Momentum member from Southport, who jointly moved the motion. To be honest my usual approach to a speech would be to make it impassioned and not hide my social principles, but I had a really strong instinct that if I was to go sort of like full on left wing, that it wouldn’t get through. I knew that I would have to moderate some of those flowery phrases and accusations that I’d like to have made in order to make it appeal more broadly.
One of the crucial things about it was actually quoting Keir Starmer’s statements. Because he said when he was standing to be leader that CLPs must be in charge of their own selections. I had a choice about how I said that. One was ‘Keir Starmer is an absolutely bloody liar!’, or use a bit of humour instead, which is what I did. And I personally think that was key to it getting through. Using a bit of sense of humour, and a little bit of vulnerability, didn’t do me any disfavour.
How did you feel after the result?
I must admit, I did toss and turn a bit in bed that night, because you don’t know the result until you get the CAC report in the morning. The next morning I skimmed through it and it was all ‘against, against, against’. And then I had to read it three times and call my fellow delegates and ask, ‘Am I reading this right? 63%?’
It was exciting to see loads of people ready to get very active in the Labour Party at a point where it’s been particularly grim. And rather than just talking about, you know, the failings of Keir Starmer the whole time, which you can easily spend a weekend doing, this was actually really positive, and looked at how to be constructive within the Party.
This month we chat to Mandy Baker, who is a member of Waltham Forest Momentum.
We spoke about their group’s Eviction Resistance organising, the alliances they’ve made, and the campaigns they have planned for the future.
Tell me about the Eviction Resistance work you guys have done so far.
Most of our work has been around a woman called Nadia, a local woman who has been in private rented accommodation, and during the pandemic her partner left. She has amassed loads of arrears, and as a result, once the eviction ban was lifted she was served an eviction notice from her landlord. And we’ve kind of been battling ever since with the council about where they rehouse her. They’ve offered to rehouse her in Stoke, which is 160 miles away from her support network in Walthamstow. The ability for her to get out of the poverty trap would just be compounded by taking her away from where she has family. It’s incredibly brutal.
What links have you built through the process of supporting Nadia?
We’re working with London Renters Union really closely – who have over one thousand members in nearby Newham and Leytonstone – as well as Unite Community, and quite an amazingly inspirational coalition of people called Cooperation Town, which is a network of community-led food co-ops that are really political.
First and foremost we want to sort out Nadia’s situation, but we’re looking at doing a campaign that raises awareness about the amount of empty properties in the borough, as well as exposing how the council is rehousing a lot more people outside of the borough than was previously thought. This is happening at the same time as a massive house building programme in Walthamstow and Waltham Forest but only a tiny fraction of them are social housing. There’s definitely also a disproportionate amount of single parent women of colour who are being impacted by the housing shortage. So we think that there’s a big equalities issue there and we don’t think that the council are carrying out sufficient equality impact processes. So we’ll need to push them on that.
‘They rig elections, we build the movement’
Our Labour Conference debrief
With the economic effects of COVID-19 still being felt and with the country in turmoil with fuel shortages, this could have been the perfect Party Conference for Labour to call out Conservative chaos and the failures of an economic model increasingly incapable of meeting people’s basic needs.
But instead of uniting to take on the Tories and strategising to win, Keir Starmer decided to use Labour Conference to attack the left and Party democracy. His bizarre and regressive attempt to revert back to the electoral college – giving MPs a vote in Labour leadership elections worth two thousand times that of members – was a blatant attempt to centralise power in the hands of a small group of Westminster politicians, at the expense of ordinary members.
But as a movement we defeated this. Thousands of you mobilised and made your voices heard, and against opposition from trade unions the proposal floundered. With the help of right-wingers in Unison, Starmer did manage to increase the number of MP nominations a candidate would need to get on the ballot – but only just, and against a majority of votes of members. This was hardly the victory he anticipated and the Party is now more polarised than ever, while Labour’s poll ratings continue to decline or stall.
But while Starmer was trying to rig future leadership elections, and focusing on his successor, socialists and progressives were uniting to pass transformative policy to change the country.
From a Socialist Green New Deal to a massive council house building campaign, and from a Right to Food to a £15 minimum wage, we now have the building blocks for a programme to change the country.
We do not expect Starmer to willingly include these policies in the next Labour manifesto, even if they now are official Party policy. Our role is to use these policies to politically educate and organise and to get out into the country to build support for socialist ideas, and build pressure for their inclusion in any programme for government. This will require all our efforts, but after this year’s Labour Conference we are now building from a strong foundation.
Thanks to Momentum members and our allies in the Party we were also able to pass a motion giving CLPs control over who represents them in Parliament. After the shambles of Paul Williams’ selection in the Hartlepool by-election defeat, against the wishes of the local Party, CLPs will now have the decisive say in who they select in by-elections and snap elections. This was a major victory for Party democracy, as it puts control back in the hands of Party members and improves the chances of their being solid, local socialist candidates if there is a snap election called in the next two years. We are proud that we, and you, have played our part in delivering that change.
This conference has also seen a change in the party’s direction of travel. It is now clear that Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign was fundamentally misleading, and that the promises of unity, electability and transformative policy have in fact turned into a reality of factional warfare, a polling deficit and ten abandoned pledges. The future success of our party requires a fundamental change of direction – and a majority of members agree.
But we force this change of direction by shifting the terrain under the feet of the leadership. This means campaigning openly for our ideas, building support for them in the country, and continuing to organise in CLPs and for councillor selections. We will call out Starmer when he falls short, as he so often does, but we are at our best when we are organising locally and offering a truly transformative socialist vision for change. We have the ideas and the energy, so let’s organise and build together.
The World Transformed provided much needed space to have the important strategic conversations about how we do that building. It was a roaring success once again, with attendees coming away feeling energised and primed for the struggles ahead. Momentum’s NCG were ever present throughout the course of the festival, whether as speakers on panels, contributors from the floor, or participants in breakout groups – providing important movement leadership and reminding TWT attendees that Momentum is a vital socialist institution of the Labour left.
But after Conference – what next?
Socialist Organising in a New Era
At Momentum we are doing the patient organising in the Labour Party and in our communities that we need to build power. The leadership may be drifting rightwards, but we have the bold ideas to radically change this country for the better.
We are rebuilding our network of local groups, starting up a trade unionist network to help recruit young people into these vital institutions, and now we are holding a series of Assemblies where the grassroots of our movement are deliberating on a new constitution, political structures and ways of organising. All of this will help us become an organisation led by members and capable of winning.
Over the next few months we want to have 1-2-1 conversations with every single Momentum member and many of our supporters and allies, to discuss how we build a movement that can transform the Labour Party and deliver a socialist Labour Government. As part of this, we as the left need to come together to collectively decide on a way forward in light of the change in the MP nomination threshold for Labour leader. Your voice and ideas will be crucial to this debate, so get involved.
As we have outlined in Momentum’s first ever strategic plan, Socialist Organising in a New Era, our organising now requires much greater focus on leadership development, network-building at the local level, and political education – all of which create the relationships and organic leadership that hold movements together and helps them grow, especially in challenging periods.
At the heart of this will be our flagship projects, such as the Future Councillors Programme, helping the next generation of leaders get selected as Labour council candidates, as well as the Leo Panitch Leadership Programme – our new activist development programme, giving people the tools and skills they need to understand the world around them and change it.
In spite of what has been a difficult 18 months in the wake of the 2019 election defeat, the closeness of many of the votes at Labour Conference show that if we get organised and refuse to succumb to disillusionment, we can ensure the future of our Party is a socialist one.
Want to be a part of our future plans? On Wednesday 13 October at 7pm join NCG members Gaya Sriskanthan, Darran McLaughlin, Shona Jemphrey and Mish Rahman for a Momentum Community Ask Me Anything discussion on Labour Conference and the next steps for our movement. If you haven’t signed up to Momentum Community then you can do so here.
This month, many of us have been glued to the proceedings at Labour conference. Some of the outcomes were good (passing the Green New Deal, for instance) – others, such as Keir Starmer’s new 20% leadership threshold, were not. Yet frustratingly, even those few good outcomes have been watered down by the leadership.
One would hope that, when Labour conference votes for a set of policies, the Labour leadership would champion them. Yet despite Labour conference endorsing a £15 minimum wage and public ownership of energy utilities, the leadership has firmly held the line against both these policies.
Will this make them more electable? The polls suggest it won’t: the vast majority of voters back both policies, despite Keir Starmer’s top team making it very clear that Labour won’t support them.
Given that the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) currently numbers only 33 Labour MPs, this has led many to argue that the Left has no chance of nominating a candidate for leader. I disagree. Although Rebecca Long-Bailey only received 34 nominations from MPs and MEPs in 2020 (16%), this number was only this low because some supportive MPs ‘lent’ nominations to Emily Thornberry and others did not formally nominate RLB.
The graph below shows the hypothetical result under the new system, with nominations for Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry re-allocated. Note that this only includes MPs, and not MEPs (who can no longer nominate candidates).
Since Keir Starmer became Leader, the Labour Left has won the most votes and seats in the NEC elections, the Young Labour elections, the Women’s Committee elections and the Conference Arrangements Committee elections. All in all – not bad.
One of Britain’s oldest (and most crooked) institutions: The Royal Family
Usually this award is reserved for the capitalist class, but this week we’re taking it back to feudal times and focusing our attention on the landed aristocracy. That’s right, a big congratulations to the British Royal Family and surrounding institutions, also known (somewhat ominously) as “The Firm”.
Whilst our benevolent royal overlords to which us Brits are mere subjects are perhaps an easy choice, in light of what we now know from the Pandora Papers they deserve special mention this week.
Apparently not content with owning huge swathes of land and being subsidised by the British people by ever increasing amounts, it turns out The Firm have been using some rather morally duplicitous ways to increase their profits and hide their riches from the taxman.
Amidst a swathe of new revelations contained in the Pandora Papers revealing how the super rich are able to grow and then hide their very real magic money trees from our hapless politicians, is information on how the Crown Estate (owned by Liz) are involved with a property deal for a trust linked to the human rights abusing Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, landing them a cool $42m. It also turns out the Queen has about £10m invested offshore, including in the tax havens of the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, something to bear in mind when you next hear we can’t afford to maintain the Universal Credit uplift.
We can’t think why The Firm might need some extra cash right now – though perhaps funding Andrew’s legal case is putting a strain on their budget? Or maybe they need some new PR managers to deal with revelations of racism in the Palace that Harry is rumoured to be revealing in a new book? Or could it be to pay for the costs of Royal Park cleaners going on strike recently over their pay and conditions? Or maybe it’s just good old fashioned greed?
Whatever the reason, it is surely long past time we abolished this toxic and archaic institution. For all these reasons and more we congratulate The Firm on winning Class Enemy of the Week and finally providing some representation for the aristocracy amongst the many previous villainous winners of this award. Watch out Lords, Ladies (and Barons) of Britain – we’re coming for you.
Last week – from Saturday to Tuesday – over 150 volunteers & 3000+ attendees arrived in Brighton for #TWT21. From Old Steine Gardens to Brighthelm, the sessions explored the status of Starmer, the future of the left & examined how after 18 months of isolation we can build from the ground up as a re-invigorated movement.
If you weren’t in Brighton for TWT, you can catch up on recorded sessions on our YouTube channel, including “Starmer Out?” with Aaron Bastani and Gaya Sriskanthan, “Organising for Climate Justice” with Jeremy Corbyn and the COP 26 coalition, and “How do we understand the right?” with Owen Jones & Ash Sarkar, amongst much more.
The weekend was an overwhelming success, and proved that it’s the left, not the Labour Party establishment and the right, that have the ideas and energy to tackle the multiple crises we face. But projects like TWT can only be sustained with your help. Please consider becoming a supporter for as little as £1 per month here.
That’s all for this month, comrades. We hope you enjoyed this month’s issue. Any feedback you have and ideas for how to make the newsletter better are much appreciated. Don’t hesitate to send us an email at [email protected] with your thoughts.
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