Kevin Maguire: What next for Momentum, the fifth largest force in UK politics?

Written by Kevin Maguire on 6 April 2018 in Opinion

Powerful voices are whispering into Corbyn's ear about how the Left's fresh blood could defeat enemies within.

Fewer MPs for Labour can mean more for Jeremy Corbyn when the leader's office sniffs an opportunity in a crisis. Who needs mandatory reselection to send a new model army to Westminster if candidates selected in target seats are permitted to compete on equal terms against sitting members, should the number of constituencies be reduced to 650 from 600 under redrawn parliamentary boundaries.

Powerful voices are whispering into Corbyn's ear, I'm told, about how the Left's fresh blood would defeat many of the enemy within by the simple procedure of a small rule change with a potentially big impact.

It's the search for a Corbynite silver lining in the dark cloud of Theresa May rigging the electoral system further in favour of the Conservatives - axing 50 mainly opposition MPs. This is a prospect heightened by curiously radical boundary revisions in Northern Ireland which for her fortuitously guarantees 10 seats for the Government's DUP allies.

The entire process whiffs of gerrymandering when calculations by the House of Commons library found that at the 2017 general election the Tories got one seat for every 43,018 votes nationally compared with Labour's 49,152 per MP or Liberal Democrats' 197,665 and Green's 525,665. I don't hear the DUP complaining it was unfair to secure one MP for every 29,200.

Raising the electoral mountain Labour would need to climb to form a Government, exercising minority or coalition rule let alone governing with a majority , is an unexpected gift for the fifth largest force in UK politics: Momentum.

Membership of the Corbyn fan club overtaking the Greens when it topped 40,000 puts the grassroots movement behind only the Lib Dems, SNP and Tories plus, of course, Labour itself. Dwindling, rudderless Ukip is gurgling back into the sewer.

Unfair caricatures of Momentum as the new Militant Tendency, a tightly-knit parasitic party within a party, ignore the diversity and vibrancy of a looser organisation suffering growing pains. The spontaneous self-combustion of Christine Shawcroft and Jon Lansman's general secretaryship hokey cokey were clodhopping politics, not surefooted manoeuvres.

Momentum largely lost out to better organised trade unions in the earlier round of selection battles in the seats Labour must win but the faction's discussing internally how to improve its success rate. Lansman claiming, in a recording passed to the Daily Mirror, that Corbyn favours relaxing trigger ballots in constituencies with sitting Labour MPs is a sign the group's up for battles ahead. The leader's office asserting the man himself hasn't expressed a view doesn't mean he isn't listening to advice and Corbyn's said by those close to him to instinctively favour involving as many of Labour's 500,000+ members as possible in selecting candidates.

Thwarted by those who cautioned his desire to allow Labour MPs to be challenged rather than automatically stand again when May called last year's snap election might provoke local civil wars, democracy Corbyn-style would inevitably be a danger to his most vocal Westminster critics and an opening for Leftier alternatives.

Shawcroft's enforced pressing of an ejector seat button to allow her place on the party's national executive seat to be filled, possibly only temporarily, by Eddie Izzard, much to the delight of its weaker Right-wing competitors Progress and Labour First, was an embarrassing tactical retreat in the anti-Semitism controversy.

Momentum's most formidable barrier may prove Jennie Formby. Labour's new general secretary isn't, I'm assured by folk in the Unite trade union, a foe to forget or forgive and Lansman badly mishandled the NEC election for the post. Initially pinging Formby a warm message urging her to stand then throwing his own hat in the ring before picking it up to pull, out under intense pressure, was a personal and political error.

Hubris might turn Momentum's numerical strength into a weakness, pride coming before a fall. Unless Momentum matches its propaganda, the crisis of fewer Labour seats may prove an opportunity for the trade union Left in the battle to be Corbyn's praetorian guard.





Kevin Maguire is associate editor of the Daily Mirror.


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