March 09, 2022

Hello comrades,

This month we bring you news of Tory indifference to Ukrainian refugees, a Q&A with outgoing Young Labour chair Jess Barnard and we take a closer look at a Tory donor with links to Putin. Enjoy.

Russia invasion of Ukraine. It’s a deeply worrying time. Two weeks ago Putin ordered Russian tanks over the border into Ukraine. War has raged ever since, with major cities facing aerial bombardment and many civilians caught in the crossfire. Ukrainian resistance has been stronger than Russian forces expected, and there have been street protests against the invasion in cities across Russia. Solidarity to the Ukrainian people. Here was Momentum’s initial statement on the invasion, with a more comprehensive statement from the NCG to follow shortly.

Ukraine demos. Thousands have taken to the streets in the UK to show their solidarity with the Ukrainian people, with many not only opposing Russian aggression, but also the Tory government’s unwillingness to provide safe passage for Ukrainian refugees. The government’s unwillingness to welcome refugees is hardly surprising considering the Nationality and Borders Bill, which criminalises many who are travelling here to seek asylum. Sadly, Labour is once again ducking a basic matter of principle, and failing to support a visa waiver. 

Starmer’s power grab. With war once again raging in Europe, what does Keir Starmer decide to do? Use the moment to start another factional assault of the Labour Left. In a shockingly anti-democratic move, the Labour leadership shut down the Young Labour Twitter account, axed its Conference and slashed its funding. All for their temerity in standing up for socialist principles. Eleven socialist MPs were also forced to withdraw their signatures on a Stop the War statement, despite repeatedly condemning Putin’s aggression themselves. It is deeply authoritarian behaviour. 

The fight back. The reason why they’ve had to resort to bureaucratic machinations is because the membership – and especially young members – would never consent to this kind of behaviour and the general direction they are taking the Party in. We now have a chance in the NEC, Young Labour and Labour Students elections to show our steel. Outgoing chair of Young Labour Jess Barnard joins the Grassroots Voice slate alongside current socialist NEC members Mish Rahman, Yasmine Dar and Gemma Bolton.

  • By passing radical policies at Labour Conference 2021, we proved that a majority of Labour members and affiliates are committed to a transformative programme. But what policies and issues can we build pressure around this year? Local groups have until 25 March to propose motions for this year’s Policy Primary.
  • With elections coming up this year, we held primaries to decide three key positions on our Young Labour/Labour Students slate. The candidates chosen by those members who are 27 or under, or students were: Nabeela Mowlana for Young Labour Chair, Fabiha Askari for Vice-Chair of Labour Students and Samuel Cohen for Young Labour under-18 rep.
  • Over the last year, member-led Assemblies have produced a set of proposals that will fundamentally change how Momentum works and how we win. Now is the time to have your say on our Refounding Momentum process. Click here to give your feedback on the proposals.
  • We’ve launched a new membership tier! If you’re no longer a member of the Labour Party, you can still support and get involved in Momentum’s work. Become a Momentum Movement Builder here. Click here for more information on who is eligible. 
  • If you are member in London, why not join our council elections campaign day in Westminster on Sunday? There are some great socialist candidates running in one of the most unequal boroughs in the country. Meet at 11am outside Pimlico station. 

Si Oldham is a member of Momentum Southampton and one of the co-founders of the Southampton Social Aid Group, which is a project to provide food for low-income people in the city based on principles of solidarity, not charity.

What made you decide to start SSAG?

When I was doorknocking, I saw lots of people struggling with food poverty and the effects of austerity. But not everyone wanted to go to a foodbank. They either weren’t in a position where they could be referred, or didn’t like the idea of a handout, or didn’t feel comfortable about going to a church to receive it. 

How does it work?

So the idea is that our members will pay a weekly fee and then they get a certain amount of goods for that money. We currently have 40-50 regular users and around 200 people signed up in total. People can pay £3.50 for 10 items or £5 for 15. There are also some free items too. The idea is that all the funds go back into the service, which means we can buy goods in bulk and reduce the cost down. We are based on principles of solidarity: everyone pays in but that goes into making it cheaper and more easily available for everyone else. The more members we have, the more money we have, the greater and better quality goods that we can buy. The majority of our goods are bought at low-cost from FareShare who collect good quality surplus food from supermarkets. 

How has it changed your political outlook?

In the wake of the 2019 election, I was frustrated. At Labour Conference, I saw a lot of people making speeches, a lot of people speaking at rallies, a lot of people talking about political education – but what we weren’t doing is what we should be doing as socialists. And that’s showing solidarity with people in our own communities.

Yes, elections are important. But we should be showing what we would do if we were in power, and actually make those changes, as much as we can do, now.

Being brought up in the neoliberal era, I think a lot of younger people just don’t understand, or haven’t had that much exposure to, principles of solidarity and sharing. If we want to bring the younger generations in who aren’t politically engaged then I think we have to go back to basics. People need to understand that sharing means more freedom! 

Si wants to start a website that would help to share best practice on how to set up and run social aid groups such as the SSAG. Would you be interested in helping out? Contact Simon on [email protected]

This issue we talk to Glyn Harries from Hackney Momentum about the campaign to stop the Edmonton Incinerator.

What are the reasons behind the campaign?

The current incinerator is coming to the end of its life and the council have decided they want to build a new one. Firstly, people are worried about air pollution in the low-income area surrounding it and how it affects poor residents who already suffer health issues resulting from poverty. There’s also been a big push on what’s called environmental racism and how it would adversely affect ethnic minorities in the local area – West Africans, Caribbeans, Turks, Kurds etc. 

What is the alternative?

The council say that the only two options are either build a new incinerator or the rubbish goes in landfill, which of course has its own environmental problems. But we’ve got an opportunity here to do something akin to a Green New Deal. We could create hundreds, potentially thousands of jobs in all London’s North London’s waste being recycled – rather than put into an incinerator. The tech is there and we know how to pull out all the organic matter from everything. We have low recycling levels in the borough at the moment but the amount the North London Waste Authority spend on that currently is relatively low – we need to quadruple it.

What are the next steps for the campaign?

We met up with Camden Momentum about a month ago and attended a march in Edmonton. We also held a well attended meeting recently to discuss the matter, and have been going to local markets to hand out flyers. The broader campaign is still going relatively strong and there is a judicial review in the works. We’ll see!

‘I want to be a strong, socialist working class voice’
Meet Jess Barnard

When did you first get into politics?

The Tories came into power in 2010 when I was in year 10 at school. I remember being absolutely devastated. Teachers were really worried about what it would mean for the school’s budget as it was in quite a deprived area in King’s Lynn. Quite quickly, the cuts started to hit my local community.

My parents work in substance abuse support – the cases they were seeing were just getting worse and worse and they were eventually made redundant. Being around that made me want to get involved, get active and do something about it.

When did you join the Labour Party? 

I joined in 2012. It took me a year or so to start attending meetings but when I did I was probably the youngest person there by about 25 years! I became the CLP’s women’s officer after about a year or so, and stood to become a Borough Councillor in a seat I was told was unwinnable – but ended up coming close and only losing by 50 votes. I was at uni at the time so that was quite terrifying! 

I then moved to Norwich to work as a youth worker where I became Women’s Officer in the CLP there and subsequently stood for County Council.

Why did you decide to become a youth worker?

I had a youth worker for a brief period when I was younger, and I just found it really encouraging to have that person that’s on my side. So when I saw the job  come up, I realised I wanted to be working with people, helping people and supporting them – and youth work felt like a key way to do that at that moment. Norfolk was the first area to totally axe its youth service in 2010 (Jess’s youth support work was for a charity) and mental health services have been in crisis here with just a real lack of support. 

How did Corbyn becoming leader in 2015 impact your politics?

Before Corbyn I don’t think I knew what was possible. I didn’t grow up in a particularly political family but I joined the Party because I knew what I was seeing was wrong.

And then I went to see Jeremy speak at a venue in Norwich. There was a queue round the block and I think he had to speak in two different rooms. It  was absolutely huge! I just remember in that moment being like right this is what I’ve been waiting for. This is what we should be fighting for. I was completely inspired to just dedicate as much time as I could. I vividly remember loads of my youth work colleagues came down as well and were completely inspired by it too.

What are the achievements you are most proud of as Young Labour Chair?

Before I was chair, we were lucky to meet three or four times in a year as a committee. Nothing got done. Young Labour branches weren’t being affiliated to us, they were having to go through regions and being blocked. We completely changed that. So I’ve established monthly meetings where we have a section where we approve Young Labour branches directly to Young Labour. 

It doesn’t sound that sexy, but it is a huge step forward in empowering young members. We’ve stood firm and in our beliefs, and stayed true to what we were elected to do. And we have fought so hard to stand for that in the face of so much pressure, threats, intimidation, and underhand tactics.

The motion to conference on Palestine was definitely a huge, huge win. The rally at Conference also – I can’t tell you the opposition I faced. At the time everyone was so demoralised. They were refusing to let us have certain speakers. But then Unite gave us a room and it was just such an incredible event. Seeing it all come together made it all worth it. And everybody that was there said that it was their favourite event of the conference, and left them inspired. 

You are running on the Grassroots Voice 4 slate for the NEC elections. If elected, what do you hope to achieve?

Throughout my time as Young Labour Chair, I have been contacted so many times by so many young members who have been suspended or put under investigation for really, really ridiculous charges. They often are very panicked and it has such a hugely detrimental impact on their mental health. It’s something that I really want to push back against and lobby for the reform of that process.

We need a new process that actually considers people’s wellbeing rather than just seeing it as a factional battle. We have a responsibility and duty of care to people. So for me, personally, that’s one of the big things that I want to address on the NEC. I also want to be a strong working class voice that stands up to the Party leadership as it tries to silence socialist voices.

Since Keir Starmer became Labour leader, his supporters have argued he is more in touch with the public than the left of his party. But even as the Tories struggle in the polls, Starmer still refuses to adopt policies that are hugely popular with the public – and is moving Labour to the right, even as the public back leftist policies.

Given the massive rise in voters’ energy bills, you’d think Starmer would be supportive of a nationalisation policy that would allow the government to keep bills low. But he continues to oppose the idea, even as the public favour it by a clear margin. At the same time, Starmer also opposes raising the minimum wage to £15 – even though voters back it.

Finally, Starmer has abandoned freedom of movement and refused to call for an open door policy for Ukrainian refugees. Yet voters have become more open to immigration in recent years, with the proportion wanting lower immigration falling from 67% in 2015 to 49% in 2020.

Corbyn may have been defeated, but his policies remain popular and the public are becoming more progressive – not less. Labour needs to bear this in mind. 

Lubov Chernukhin
Russian oligarch and Tory donor

We’re all familiar with the so-called ‘oligarch’ – those wealthy businessmen and women who seem to own roughly half of London (£8bn in real estate), are heavily involved in several Premier League clubs (to varying degrees of success; sorry Everton fans), and, more often than not, make hefty donations to the Tory Party. The class enemy of this week, Lubov Chernukhin, fits the bill nicely.

This former banker holds the dubious distinction of making more financial contributions to the Conservative Party than any other woman in British history. Since 2012, she has donated roughly £2m to Johnson’s party, including £160,000 for a game of tennis with the prime minister. As if one dodgy party wasn’t enough, Chernukin is one of the many Britain-based Russian capitalists to have close ties to Vladimir Putin’s regime. Lubov is married to Putin’s former deputy finance minister, Vladimir Chernukin, who is reportedly close to the Kremlin security establishment.

Since becoming British citizens in 2011, the couple quickly became acquainted with the age-old British tradition of “offshoring”. Their £30m mansion, which overlooks Regent’s Park, is owned by an overseas shell company. Indeed, the Chernukins’ extravagant lifestyle – which includes trips on superyachts and private jets – is supported by incomes gained from a sprawling network of such companies, the likes of which the Pandora Papers could only hint at.

With Russian-owned assets being targeted all over the gaff – albeit slowly enough to allow for last-minute sales – we wonder how long Lubov has left before Johnson’s repo men begrudgingly come knocking. Or will all the cosying up to the Tory establishment be enough to save her from the dreaded sanctions?

“But aren’t there class enemies of all nations who are equally worthy of our attention?” I hear you saying. True. We’re not drawing a moral distinction between Russian capitalists and British bankers, or American oil execs and so on (any of them could easily be next week’s class enemy). However, Lubov Chernukin highlights something important: as many ordinary Russians suffer under the weight of western sanctions, and thousands of Ukrainian citizens flee or shelter from falling bombs, it’s the super-rich who, as always, evade these measures.

The World Transformed will be back in Liverpool this September for the first time since 2018. This week, the TWT team went up to meet local activists and discuss this year’s festival priorities, politics and programme to understand the state of play in Liverpool and surrounding areas as thoroughly as possible. If you’re from the area and want to input, be sure to send an email to [email protected]

Pressure on household incomes is increasing, driven by rising energy costs, inflation, and wage stagnation. Decades of policies which prioritise profits, along with the decimation of the social safety net, have ensured that it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who are being hit the hardest. This crisis is not inevitable. It is the result of successive governments surrendering basic human needs to market forces.

You can watch back TWT’s event on the Cost of Living Crisis – what it is and what we must demand to resolve it – here.

It has been almost 50 years since the Troops Out Movement established in England in response to British Soldier presence again in the streets of Ireland. Join TWT and MayDay Rooms on Wednesday March 30 with special guests Aly Renwick, Maev McDaid, Shelly Asquith, Jeremy Corbyn and Stiofán Ó Nualláin to discuss the Troops Out Movement, and what the British Left can learn today. Spaces are limited – you can sign up 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.

 

In solidarity,

 

Casper

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