It has been more than 18 months since the defeat of the general election and more than a year since Keir Starmer became leader of the Labor Party. It has been a difficult time for the Labor left, with a wave of member suspensions, abandonment by leaders of progressive politics and a climate of hostility directed at our organization, Momentum. We also recently suffered our first notable electoral defeat within the party, losing the majority of seats on the London Regional Executive Committee (REC). Taken together, this symbolizes a shift in the party to the right. The critical questions are how far? And what’s next?
Look beyond the main London REC result and about 40% of the main delegates at the London Labor conference were actually on the left. The success of the Labor Right in this election was amplified by the First in the Past Voting System (FPTP), and reflects small shifts in the balance of power in the electoral Labor parties (CLP). The London Labor conference is a conference of delegates, and its outcomes largely depend on how the vote stacks up within individual CLPs, which can again favor the left with just a handful of votes.
The overall picture on the left remains relatively positive. The victories in the election of the national executive committee (NEC), in the national committee for Young Labor, the women’s committee, as well as the election of socialists in Holyrood and the Senedd, point to a still large left base in the party, able to exert influence through different structures and in different electrical systems.
In addition to this foothold in the party, there are also a number of recently established left-wing institutions that provide vital intellectual and organizational coherence. Momentum is the first of them, but The World Transformed, Novara Media other Grandstand Magazine are also key, among others. Compared to the left before Jeremy Corbyn, this is vital infrastructure that was then lacking. Furthermore, the political-economic conditions that helped stimulate support for socialism are still very much present.
Reflecting on these strengths is not ignoring the challenges that lie ahead. The left may lose more Labor Party internal elections in the coming months. But any assessment of where we are going has to start with where we are and what we have.
The first step in maintaining what we have is for the Socialists to remain in the Labor Party. The goal of the Labor Right is to drive socialist thinking and activity out of the Labor Party, so our goal must be to ensure that it remains vibrant and organized. As Jon Trickett has said, there is a red thread of socialism that runs throughout the party’s history and it is the job of the Socialists to lay that thread and weave it into a tapestry, as we did under the leadership of Corbyn’s party.
While some former Labor members have left and some have formed separatist parties, under the FPTP and without the support of the big unions, any separatist party to the left of the Labor Party will fail despite the best intentions of those organizing them. History tells us this, and it is an extremely difficult argument to argue that it is more realistic to transform the entire political landscape of the UK than to transform the Labor Party.
If we believe that electoral politics is key to socialist change, then this is the task before us, and while we have a lot going for us at the present time, there are also significant challenges. The departure of the Socialists from the Labor Party has left some of our local networks fragmented and some of our data needs to be updated. Our task now is to overcome these obstacles and rebuild.
At the moment, we are investing significant resources in organizing the London REC elections, but we are also playing for the long haul, just as the Labor right did during the Corbyn years. Then they understood that any success will not come overnight and that it requires laying the right foundations, and this is a lesson that we too must learn.
In our short history, Momentum has excelled in mobilizing large numbers of people during general elections and national internal labor elections. But the kind of organization that will be required in the years to come will be different than what we have done before, where the entire left was energized by an extraordinary political moment and the opportunities provided by a socialist leader of the Labor Party.
As we have described in the first Momentum strategic plan, Socialist organization in a new era, our organization now requires a much greater focus on leadership development, building networks at the local level, and political education, all of which create the ideological glue, relationships, and organic leadership that hold movements together and help them. to grow, especially in challenging periods. In addition to this, we also need to refine our organization model and update our digital campaign tools.
In general, this is a move-building strategy. Of course, movements are built through elections and campaigns, and this fundamental approach should not be seen as opposed to the business of winning things here and now. We must do both. But in today’s climate, winning things and being successful in the long run means doing things differently. It would be naive to think that we can simply continue as before. The political terrain has changed.
For this reason, we have launched ‘Refounding Momentum’, which is about leveraging the experience and knowledge of our members to discover how we can become a more effective organization that drives member engagement and wins. The grassroots members have the knowledge and the solutions, so we are asking them. In fact, our small and committed team of staff can only do so much. Momentum wins and loses with its members.
Getting the answers correct and making the necessary changes will take time, and for some this can be seen as unnecessary introspection. But before going on a new trip, you need to make sure that the car is fit for purpose and carry out the necessary repairs. This requires patience and also requires a readjustment of what is possible in the immediate context. This is not defeatist, because in the short term we can and will win within the party, especially in politics, where there is strong support for a new green deal and many other policies associated with the left.
But in the long run, if we get it right, we can transform the entire Labor Party and campaign for a socialist Labor government once again. We have the ideas and we have the plan, we just have to do it. So if you are a socialist in the Labor Party, step up and join Momentum, be active in your local Momentum group, or work with us to create one. Without your participation we cannot win, so we need you to take the first step, then we can take the rest of them together.