Tibetan crackdown in Nepal

As part of its 'One China' policy, Maoist-run Nepal will not tolerate protests by Tibetan exiles - a

The order of events outside the Chinese embassy in Katmandu has now become a well-rehearsed routine.

“It is a cat and mouse game,” says Kunchok Tenzin, a local Tibetan businessman. “The police wait outside the embassy for the protesters to arrive, then they beat them up a little bit, put them in a cell for the night and release them in the morning so the same thing can happen again the next day.”

To show support for Beijing’s “one China” policy, which recognises Tibet and Taiwan as integral parts of China, Nepal will not tolerate any protests against its communist friends within its borders. Hundreds of Tibetan protesters are arrested in Nepal every week. Over 500 protesters can be arrested in a single day. Whilst it is understandable that Nepal maintains good relations with its powerful northern neighbour, many Tibetans living in the country believe they take it too far.

“We realise the government has to listen to China to some degree,” says Kunchok, “But what is happening here is just ridiculous.”

Around 2500 to 3000 Tibetans make the crossing over the Himalayas into Nepal each year. Most only stay briefly at a UN reception centre before moving on to India, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. But whilst Tibetans exiled in India enjoy a relatively high quality of life in a country that lets them live and protest freely, the same cannot be said for the 20,000 or so Tibetans who choose to live in Nepal.

“We have no problems at all with the Nepali people in the community,” says Tenzin Nanduk, a lecturer from Pokhara. “But the government is trying to knock the life out of us with its pro-China position.”

Even though the Nepali Interim Constitution states that everyone has the right to non-violent assembly, the response by Nepali police to protesters outside the Katmandhu embassy has often been brutal. “My friend had both his ankles broken outside that embassy,” says Kunchok. “He was the only breadwinner for his family.”

Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented not only excessive force during arrests but also ill treatment during detention. “We are particularly concerned by increasing evidence of police use of sexual and other forms of assault during arrests,” read a joint statement released by the two lobbies in March. In May, 560 women were arrested for protesting in Katmandu:

“As they were pulling me away they would feel my breasts,” a middle-aged Tibetan woman said after she was released. “They would just grab me, like they really needed to do this to get me into the van.”

The feeling of injustice growing amongst Tibetans in Nepal has been compounded by the fact that demonstrations by Bhutanese refugees always pass by peacefully without any interference from the Nepali Police.

“There is a double standard working here,” says Tenzin. “Are we paranoid for thinking there just may be other influences affecting the Nepali Government?”

The Nepali administration has a history of appeasing China. In 2007, the Nepal Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of de-registering the Bhota Welfare Office, a local NGO set up to provide community and humanitarian services to Tibetan refugees in Nepal. At the court hearing the Chinese Embassy in Nepal voiced its opposition to the registration accusing the organisation of being an operation of the “Dalai clique.” In January 2005, Nepal’s King Gyanendra, hoping to win China’s support for his February coup, closed the Office of the Representative of the Dalai Lama in Katmandu. The office had been running since the 60’s and was a cornerstone of Tibetan life in the Nepali capital.

The Nepali Monarchy was dissolved in June under pressure from the incoming Maoist government. But although Tibetans and Nepalis alike are hoping the Maoists will be a force for positive change, many are sceptical.

“We could have had it a lot worse here in Nepal,” says Ngawang Sangmo, craft shop owner and worker for the Nepal Tibetan Solidarity Forum. “So since the Maoist resurgence we are worried things could change. We fear it could get violent. I mean, the word itself, “Maoist,” causes immediate anxieties.”

It seems her anxieties were not unfounded. On 19 June, two weeks after I spoke to Ngawang, she was arrested by Nepali police as part of a dawn raid that seized two other Tibetans. Ngawang would sometimes hand out leaflets at demonstrations. She was arrested for conducting an “illegal agitation campaign”. But these three prisoners were not released after the customary single night in the cells. Local leaders fear they will spend three months in jail as this is the maximum time someone can be held without charge under Nepali law.

America has publicly expressed concerns about this recent development. On 26 June the Department Secretary’s Deputy Spokesman, Tom Casey, released a statement condemning the arrests. On 27 June Nepali police arrested 50 more Tibetan protesters.

An added twist in the pressure the Nepali government is putting on Tibetan refugees is the threat of deportation if protesters are arrested without a valid Registration Certificate (RC).

In May 2003 a group of Tibetans were refouled from Katmandu and reportedly beaten and forced to carry out hard labour in a Chinese prison. Tibetans in Nepal hoped this was an isolated incident but the recent threats have made people feel uneasy:

“I am scared because I do not have an RC,” says Pema Tenzin, 22 from Pokhara. “If we get sent back our lives are over. But this will not stop me protesting, nothing will stop us protesting.”

The Nepali government’s reluctance to register Tibetans is perhaps the biggest problem facing this exile community. Registration certificates (RC) give refugees an official identity and status. Without one a refugee has few rights and can be easily harassed by police and local officials. RC’s were provided regularly until the early 70’s when they suddenly stopped being issued. Now the government gives them out randomly and infrequently. Tibetans living in Nepal believe it is yet another tactic to intimidate them.

“There is no good reason why they can’t give me an RC,” says Pema. “Me and my friends are all in our 20s now and none of us have got one. How am I supposed to get a job? They want us to suffer.”

Although RCs provide refugees with some status it is not the same as full citizenship. Even those refugees who are registered cannot access many higher education courses, own land or businesses or be eligible for almost all professional positions. Most Tibetans simply have to be content with working in small restaurants, antique shops and handicraft stalls within the settlements themselves.

“I am a proud person,” says Lhakpa Sicho, 65, from the Tashi Palkhiel settlement in Pokhara. “We get few visitors and I am fed up of having to practically beg the tourists to buy things just so I can survive. I am too old for all this.”

In the 60s, Lhakpa was a member of the CIA trained guerilla resistance movement that fought against the Chinese from a base in Mustang in Northern Nepal, close to the Chinese border.

“The Americans gave us some basic training and some very old guns that couldn’t be traced back to them,” remembers Lhakpa. “We couldn’t do any serious damage but we caused a few headaches for the soldiers at the border!”

These guerilla fighters, or “Lodricks” as they are known in Tibetan, were disbanded in 1974 after the Dalai Lama urged them to put down their weapons. Most blended into settlement life in Nepal putting all thoughts of violence behind them. Tserin Siten is the coordinator of the Lodrick Welfare Society:

“Many of these ex-fighters feel a sense of despair, the guerilla movement did not succeed, the 1989 uprising [in Lhasa] did not succeed- they have resigned themselves to their lives here.”

It seems this feeling of despair is not restricted to ageing ex-freedom fighters. A recent study carried out by a team of researchers from Atlanta found that depression rates among Tibetans living in exile, though much lower than those living in Tibet itself, were high enough to indicate “significant emotional distress.”[i]

“It really is a mental condition,” says Kunchok. “Once you have lost your homeland you develop a completely different mindset, a strange mentality of loss and longing. And we all have it. Under the surface we are all distressed.”

Not only do Tibetans have to battle with the reactive grief of living a stopgap life in a foreign land, they must also deal with the day-to-day hardships that effect every Nepali citizen. In Nepal today people face eight hours of power cuts everyday, 3 hour queues at petrol pumps, soaring food prices and general political unrest.

“Life is hard enough here as it is,” says Pema. “We really don’t need the Nepali government to twist the knife on us with its negative bureaucracy.”

It is perhaps these conditions that are causing increasing numbers to move to the west, particularly to America and Canada. Many move to find work so they can send money back to their families. But even here Chinese influence is dictating the pace. Last year Washington offered asylum to 5000 Tibetans in Nepal as part of a general programme being offered to refugees in South Asia. But the Nepali government, under pressure from Beijing, did not respond meaning only Bhutanese refugees were able to make the move.

Those who remain in Nepal still receive regular direction from the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile based in the hills of Dharamsala in Northern India. The Dalai Lama does not call for independence from China but a “middle way” that would give Tibet autonomy over its own affairs whilst still remaining part of China. Though not ideal, this realistic position gives many Tibetans in Nepal hope for the future.

“We see diplomacy as a light at the end of a very long tunnel,” says Tenzin. “We can move in the direction of that light and it gives us hope. And if we die in the tunnel that is okay too- we know we will see our home again in the next life.”

RAY TANGT/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES
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Losing Momentum: how Jeremy Corbyn’s support group ran out of steam

Tom Watson says it is destroying Labour. Its supporters say it is a vital force for change. Our correspondent spent six months following the movement, and asks: what is the truth about Momentum?

1. The Bus

 The bus to the Momentum conference in Liverpool leaves at seven on a Sunday morning in late September from Euston Station, and the whole journey feels like a parody of a neoliberal play about the failings of socialism. We depart an hour late because activists have overslept and we cannot go without them. As we wait we discuss whether Jeremy Corbyn will be re-elected leader of the Labour Party this very day. One man says not; a young, jolly girl with blonde hair cries: “Don’t say that on Jezmas!” She is joking, at least about “Jezmas”.

A man walks up. “Trots?” he says, calmly. He is joking, too; and I wonder if he says it because the idea of Momentum is more exciting to outsiders than the reality, and he knows it; there is an awful pleasure in being misunderstood. Momentum was formed in late 2015 to build on Corbyn’s initial victory in the Labour leadership election, and it is perceived as a ragtag army of placard-waving Trots, newly engaged clicktivists and Corbyn fanatics.

We leave, and learn on the M1 that, in some terrible metaphor, the coach is broken and cannot drive at more than 20mph. So we wait for another coach at a service station slightly beyond Luton. “Sabotage,” says one man. He is joking, too. We get off; another man offers me his vegan bread and we discuss Karl Marx.

A new coach arrives and I listen to the others discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s problems. No one talks about his polling, because that is depressing and unnecessary for their purpose – which, here, is dreaming. They talk about Corbyn as addicts talk about a drug. Nothing can touch him, and nothing is ever his fault. “There are problems with the press office,” says one. “Perhaps he needs better PAs?” says another.

One man thinks there will be a non-specific revolution: “I hope it won’t be violent,” he frets. “There have been violent revolutions in the past.” “I stuck it out during Blair and it was worth it,” says another. “They’ve had their go.” “We don’t need them [the Blairites],” says a third. “If new members come in, it will sort itself out,” says a fourth.

I have heard this before. Momentum supporters have told me that Labour does not need floating voters, who are somehow tainted because they dare to float. This seems to me a kind of madness. I do not know how the Labour Party will win a general election in a parliamentary democracy without floating voters; and I don’t think these people do, either.

But this is a coach of believers. Say you are not sure that Corbyn can win a general election and they scowl at you. That you are in total agreement with them is assumed, because this is the solidarity bus; and if you are in total agreement with them they are the sweetest people in the world.

That is why I do not tell them that I am a journalist. I am afraid to, and this fear baffles me. I have gone everywhere as a journalist but with these, my fellow-travellers on the left, I am scared to say it; and that, too, frightens me. MSM, they might call me – mainstream media. What it really means is: collaborator.

The man beside me has been ill. He talks sweetly about the potential renewal of society under Corbyn’s Labour as a metaphor for his own recovery, and this moves him; he has not been involved in politics until now. I like this man very much, until I mention the Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger and the anti-Semitism she has suffered from Corbyn supporters and others; and he says, simply, that she has been employed by the state of Israel. He says nothing else about her, as if there were nothing else to say.

We listen to the results of the leadership election on the radio; we should be in Liverpool at the Black-E community centre to celebrate, but the solidarity bus is late. Corbyn thanks his supporters. “You’re welcome, Jeremy,” says a woman in the front row, as if he were on the coach. She nods emphatically, and repeats it to the man who isn’t there: “You’re welcome, Jeremy.”

In Liverpool, some of the passengers sleep on the floor at a community centre. The venue has been hired for that purpose: this is Momentum’s commitment to opening up politics to the non-connected, the previously non-engaged, and the outsiders who will attend their conference in a deconsecrated church, even as the official Labour conference convenes a mile away. But never mind that: this is the one that matters, and it is called The World Transformed.

 

2. The Conference

Later that day, outside the Black-E, a man comes up to me. Are you happy, he asks, which is a normal question here. These are, at least partly, the politics of feelings: we must do feelings, because the Tories, apparently, don’t. I say I’m worried about marginal seats, specifically that Jeremy – he is always Jeremy, the use of his Christian name is a symbol of his goodness, his accessibility and his singularity – cannot win them.

“The polls aren’t his fault,” the man says, “it’s [Labour] people briefing the Tories that he is unelectable.” I do not think it’s that simple but it’s easy to feel like an idiot – or a monster – here, where there is such conviction. As if there is something that only you, the unconvinced, have missed: that Jeremy, given the right light, hat or PA, could lead a socialist revolution in a country where 13 million people watched Downton Abbey.

But the man does say something interesting which I hope is true. “This is not about Jeremy, not really,” he says. “It is about what he represents.” He means Momentum can survive without him.

There is a square hall with trade union banners and a shop that sells Poems for Jeremy Corbyn, as well as a Corbyn-themed colouring book. When I am finally outed as a journalist, and made to wear a vast red badge that says PRESS, I attempt to buy one. “That’s all journalists are interested in,” the proprietor says angrily. That is one of our moral stains, apparently: a disproportionate (and sinister) interest in colouring books.

I go to the Black Lives Matter event. A woman talks about the experience of black students in universities and the impact of austerity on the black community. Another woman tells us that her five-year-old son wishes he was white; we listen while she cries. I go to the feminism meeting and change my mind about the legalisation of prostitution after a woman’s testimony about reporting an assault, and then being assaulted again by a police officer because of her legal status. Then I hear a former miner tell a room how the police nearly killed him on a picket line, and then arrested him.

This, to me, a veteran of party conferences, is extraordinary, although it shouldn’t be, and the fact that I am surprised is shameful. Momentum is full of the kinds of ­people you never see at political events: that is, the people politics is for. Women, members of minority communities (but not Zionist Jews, naturally), the disabled: all are treated with exaggerated courtesy, as if the Black-E had established a mirror world of its choosing, where everything outside is inverted.

When Corbyn arrives he does not orate: he ruminates. “We are not going to cascade poverty from generation to generation,” he says. “We are here to transform society and the world.” I applaud his sentiment; I share it. I just wish I could believe he can deliver it outside, in the other world. So I veer ­between hope and fury; between the certainty that they will achieve nothing but an eternal Conservative government, and the ever-nagging truth that makes me stay: what else is there?

There is a rally on Monday night. Momentum members discuss the “purges” of socialist and communist-leaning members from Labour for comments they made on social media, and whether détente is possible. A nurse asks: “How do we know that ‘wipe the slate clean’ means the same for us as it does for them? How on Earth can we trust the likes of Hilary Benn who dresses himself up in the rhetoric of socialism to justify bombing Syria? The plotters who took the olive branch offered by Jeremy to stab him in the back with another chicken coup?” I am not sure where she is going with that gag, or if it is even a gag.

The next man to speak had been at the Labour party conference earlier in the day; he saw Len McCluskey, John McDonnell and Clive Lewis on the platform. “Don’t be pessimistic, folks,” he cries. “On the floor of conference today we owned the party. Progress [the centrist Labour pressure group] are the weirdos now. We own the party!”

A man from Hammersmith and Fulham Momentum is next. “The national committee of Momentum was not elected by conference,” he says. “It’s a committee meeting knocked up behind closed doors by leading people on the left, including our two heroes.” He means Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. This is explicit heresy, and the chair interrupts him: “Stan, Stan . . .” “I’m winding up!” he says. “We need a central committee of Momentum elected by conference,” he says, and sits down.

The following day Corbyn speaks in the hall in front of golden balloons that spell out S-H-E-E-P. It may be another gag, but who can tell, from his face? This is his commitment to not doing politics the recognisable way. He is the man who walks by himself, towards balloons that say S-H-E-E-P. (They are advertising the band that will follow him. They are called, and dressed as, sheep.) The nobility of it, you could say. Or the idiocy. He mocks the mockers of Momentum: is it, he was asked by the mainstream media, full of extremists and entryists? “I’m not controlling any of it,” he says calmly, and in this calmness is all the Twitter-borne aggression that people complain of when they talk about Momentum, for he enables it with his self-satisfied smile. “It’s not my way to try and control the way people do things. I want people to come together.” He laughs, because no one can touch him, and nothing is ever his fault.

I meet many principled people in Liverpool whose testimony convinces me, and I didn’t need convincing, that austerity is a national disaster. I meet only one person who thinks that Momentum should take over the Labour Party. The maddest suggestion I hear is that all media should be state-controlled so that they won’t be rude about a future Corbyn government and any tribute colouring books.

 

3. The HQ

Momentum HQ is in the TSSA transport and travel union building by Euston Station in London. I meet Jon Lansman, Tony Benn’s former fixer and the founder of Momentum, in a basement room in October. Lansman, who read economics at Cambridge, lived on the fringes of Labour for 30 years before volunteering for Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership.

The terms are these: I can ask whatever I want, but afterwards James Schneider, the 29-year-old national organiser (who has since left to work for Corbyn’s press team), will decide what I can and cannot print. ­Momentum HQ wants control of the message; with all the talk of entryism and infighting reported in the mainstream media, the movement needs it.

There is a civil war between Jon Lansman and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) and other far-left factions, which, I am told, “wish to organise in an outdated manner out of step with the majority of Momentum members”. Some of the Momentum leadership believe that the AWL and its allies want to use Momentum to found a new party to the left of Labour. Jill Mountford, then a member of Momentum’s steering committee, has been expelled from Labour for being a member of the AWL. It screams across the blogs and on Facebook; more parody. We don’t talk about that – Schneider calls it “Kremlinology”. It is a problem, yes, but it is not insurmountable. We talk about the future, and the past.

So, Lansman. I look at him. The right considers him an evil Bennite wizard to be feared and mocked; the far left, a Stalinist, which seems unfair. It must be exhausting. I see a tired, middle-aged man attending perhaps his fifteenth meeting in a day. His hair is unruly. He wears a T-shirt.

The last Labour government, he says, did one thing and said another: “Wanting a liberal immigration policy while talking tough about refugees and migrants. Having a strong welfare policy and generous tax credits while talking about ‘strivers’ and ‘scroungers’ unfortunately shifted opinion the wrong way.”

It also alienated the party membership: “Their approach was based on ensuring that everyone was on-message with high levels of control.” It was an “authoritarian structure even in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party]. Even in the cabinet. It killed off the enthusiasm of the membership. They never published the figures in 2009 because it dropped below 100,000. We’ve now got 600,000.” (The membership has since dropped to roughly 528,000.)

And the strategy? “If you have hundreds of thousands of people having millions of conversations with people in communities and workplaces you can change opinion,” he says. “That’s the great advantage of ­having a mass movement. And if we can change the Labour Party’s attitude to its members and see them as a resource – not a threat or inconvenience.”

That, then, is the strategy: street by street and house by house. “We can’t win on the back of only the poorest and only the most disadvantaged,” he says. “We have to win the votes of skilled workers and plenty of middle-class people, too – but they are all suffering from some aspects of Tory misrule.”

I ask about polling because, at the time, a Times/YouGov poll has Labour on 27 per cent to the Tories’ 41 per cent. He doesn’t mind. “It was,” he says, “always going to be a very hard battle to win the next election. I think everyone across the party will privately admit that.” He doesn’t think that if Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham were leader they would be polling any better.

Upstairs the office is full of activists. They are young, rational and convincing (although, after the Copeland by-election on 23 February, I will wonder if they are only really convincing themselves). They talk about their membership of 20,000, and 150 local groups, and 600,000 Labour Party members, and the breadth of age and background of the volunteers – from teenagers to people in their eighties. One of them – Ray Madron, 84 – paints his hatred of Tony Blair like a portrait in the air. He has a ­marvellously posh voice. Most of all, they talk about the wounds of austerity. Where, they want to know, is the anger? They are searching for it.

Emma Rees, a national organiser, speaks in the calm, precise tones of the schoolteacher she once was. “A lot of people are sick and tired of the status quo, of politics as usual, and I think trying to do things differently is hard because there isn’t a road map and it’s not clear exactly what you’re supposed to do,” she says. She adds: “It is a coalition of different sorts of people and holding all those people together can sometimes be a challenge.”

Is she alluding to entryism? One activist, who asks not to be named, says: “I don’t want to insult anyone, but if you rounded up all the members of the Socialist Workers Party [SWP] and the Socialist Party and any other ultra-left sect, you could probably fit them in one room. Momentum has 20,000 members.”

The SWP were outside at The World Transformed in Liverpool, I say, like an ambivalent picket line. “Well,” James Schneider says pointedly, “they were outside.”

Momentum, Emma Rees says, “is seeking to help the Labour Party become that transformative party that will get into government but doesn’t fall back on that tried and failed way of winning elections”.

They tell me this repeatedly, and it is true: no one knows what will work. “The people who criticised us don’t have any route to electability, either,” says Joe Todd, who organises events for Momentum. He is a tall, bespectacled man with a kindly, open face.

“They lost two elections before Jeremy Corbyn. It’s obvious we need to do something differently,” he says. “Politics feels distant for most people: it doesn’t seem to offer any hope for real change.

“The left has been timid and negative. More and more people are talking about how we can transform society, and how these transformations link to people’s everyday experience. Build a movement like that,” Todd says, and his eyes swell, “and all the old rules of politics – the centre ground, swing constituencies to a certain extent – are blown out of the water.”

Momentum sends me, with a young volunteer as chaperone, to a rally in Chester in October to watch activists try to muster support for local hospitals. They set up a stall in the centre of the shopping district, with its mad dissonance of coffee shops and medieval houses. From what I can see, people – yet far too few people – listen politely to the speeches about austerity and sign up for more information; but I can hear the hum of internal dissent when an activist, who asks not to be named, tells me he will work for the local Labour MP to be deselected. (The official Momentum line on deselection is, quite rightly, that it is a matter for local parties.)

We will not know what matters – is it effective? – until the general election, because no one knows what will work.

 

4. The Fallout

Now comes the result of the by-election in Copeland in the north-west of England, and the first time since 1982 that a ruling government has taken a seat from the opposition in a by-election. Momentum canvassed enthusiastically (they sent 85 carloads of activists to the constituency) but they failed, and pronounce themselves “devastated”. The whispers – this time of a “soft” coup against Corbyn – begin again.

Rees describes calls for Jeremy Corbyn to resign as “misguided. Labour’s decline long pre-dates Corbyn’s leadership.”

This produces a furious response from Luke Akehurst, a former London Labour ­councillor in Hackney, on labourlist.org. He insists that Labour’s decline has accelerated under Corbyn; that even though Rees says that “Labour has been haemorrhaging votes in election after election in Copeland since 1997”, the majority increased in 2005 and the number of votes rose in 2010, despite an adverse boundary change. “This,” he writes, “was a seat where the Labour vote was remarkably stable at between 16,750 and 19,699 in every general election between 2001 and 2015, then fell off a cliff to 11,601, a third of it going AWOL, last Thursday.”

And he adds that “‘85 carloads of Mom­entum activists’ going to Copeland is just increasing the party’s ability to record whose votes it has lost”.

But still they plan, and believe, even if no one knows what will work; surely there is some antidote to Mayism, if they search every street in the UK? Momentum’s national conference, which was repeatedly postponed, is now definitively scheduled for 25 March. Stan who complained about a democratic deficit within Momentum at The World Transformed got his way. So did Lansman. In January the steering committee voted to dissolve Momentum’s structures and introduce a constitution, after consulting the membership. A new national co-ordinating group has been elected, and met for the first time on 11 March – although, inevitably, a group called Momentum Grassroots held a rival meeting that very day.

I go to the Euston offices for a final briefing. There, two young women – Sophie and Georgie, and that will make those who think in parodies laugh – tell me that, in future, only members of the Labour Party will be allowed to join Momentum, and existing members must join Labour by 1 July. Those expelled from Labour “may be deemed to have resigned from Momentum after 1 July” – but they will have a right to a hearing.

More details of the plan are exposed when, a week later, a recording of Jon Lansman’s speech to a Momentum meeting in Richmond on 1 March is leaked to the Observer. Lansman told the Richmond branch that Momentum members must hold positions within the Labour Party to ensure that Corbyn’s successor – they are now talking about a successor – is to their liking. He also said that, should Len McCluskey be re-elected as general secretary of Unite, the union would formally affiliate to Momentum.

Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the party, was furious when he found out, calling it “a private agreement to fund a political faction that is apparently planning to take control of the Labour Party, as well as organise in the GMB and Unison”.

There was then, I am told, “a short but stormy discussion at the away day at Unison” on Monday 20 March, where the inner circle of John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Emily Thornberry “laid into” Watson, but Shami Chakrabarti made the peace; I would have liked to see that. Watson then released a bland joint statement with Corbyn which mentioned “a robust and constructive discussion about the challenges and opportunities ahead”.

Jon Lansman, of course, is more interesting. “This is a non-story,” he tells me. “Momentum is encouraging members to get active in the party, to support socialist policies and rule changes that would make Labour a more grass-roots and democratic party, and to campaign for Labour victories. There is nothing scandalous and sinister about that.” On the Labour right, Progress, he notes, does exactly the same thing. “Half a million members could be the key to our success,” he says. “They can take our message to millions. But they want to shape policy, too. I wouldn’t call giving them a greater say ‘taking over the party’” – and this is surely unanswerable – “it’s theirs to start with.”

Correction: This article originally named Luke Akehurst as a Labour councillor. Akehurst stood down in 2014.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution