Violence renewed

How the cowardly slaying of two soldiers and a police officer in Northern Ireland has been covered o

Responding to murder

It's been more than ten years since peace in the country has experienced such violent hiatus – and the murders of army and police personnel by republican terrorists in Northern Ireland has dominated the blogosphere this week.

John Wright, writing on Socialist Unity, was unsurprised by the Antrim attack, believing that it exposed underlying flaws in the peace process.

“It involved throwing money at the communities involved in a clear attempt to buy their support,” he wrote, “hoping that in time the contradiction that lies at the root of the conflict – namely partition – would recede in importance in line with a peace dividend in the form of prosperity and a boom in consumption.”

Wright believes that as darker economic times come upon us, the divisions that characterise the country are inevitably re-emerging.

There was a tangible hardening in of condemnatory rhetoric amongst republicans following the killing of a police officer in Craigavon, an act claimed by the continuity IRA. Former government advisor Conor Ryan regarded Martin McGuinness' press conference with DUP leader Peter Robinson and Hugh Orde as a sign of the “penny having dropped” among Sinn Feinn politicians, writing that McGuinness “expressed himself with unprecedented emotion and feeling”.

South Armagh republican Chris Gaskin was less than mournful at the death of British soldiers – but at news of the police murder, he wrote “I'm starting to feel slightly angry at the moment and I never thought I would ever feel that reaction in relation to the death of a peeler”, going on to say that: “these people cannot succeed in allowing this country to slip back into chaos, they just can't!”

On the leading blog for coverage of Northern Irish politics, Slugger O'Toole's Turgon examined the question of whether Sinn Feinn's initially “stuttering condemnation” of the army murders amounted to a missed opportunity for the party, which, he argued, should be using the airwaves and internet to call on constituents to assist the police.

Northern Ireland Tory Seymour Major wanted us to spare a thought for former DUP MEP Jim Allister, now representing 'Traditional Ulster Voice'. Allister, he blogged, is puzzled by unionist support for McGuinness' stance following the attacks – and is now keenly seeking to make political capital from Sinn Feinn's rejection of stepped up security.

Finally, the silent protest against violence, led by the trades union, was captured beautifully by Belfast photographer Phil O'Kane.

What have we learned this week?

That the government has apparently abandoned any pretence of sanity, decency or consistency, by granting Hezbollah's Ibrahim Moussawi the right to enter the UK, just weeks after refusing the same to Geert Wilders.

Around the World

Riyadh-based blogger Ahmed Al-Omran commented this week on injustice in the Saudi judicial system. He blogged about the elderly Syrian woman in the KSA, who was lashed and deported for having two men who were not relatives come to her house and sell her bread. Ahmed considered it “a slap in the face” for the country and welcomed news that human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem is to take on the case, “not just for the sake of the old woman and the two young men, but also for the cause of justice and human rights in this country”.

Video of the Week

Watch footage of the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Patricia McKeown, address the crowd at Belfast peace protest, courtesy of WIMPS, a Northern Ireland website dedicated to improving youth engagement with public representatives.

Quote of the Week

“So as well as a return to recession we have the return of people who think that murdering working class teenagers is a good and noble thing.”

John Gray on Labour List

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: Getty
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How the row over Jackie Walker triggered a full-blown war in Momentum

Jon Lansman, the organisation's founder, is coming under attack. 

The battle for control within Momentum, which has been brewing for some time, has begun in earnest.

In a sign of the growing unrest within the organisation – established as the continuation of Jeremy Corbyn’s first successful leadership bid, and instrumental in delivering in his re-election -  a critical pamphlet by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL), a Trotskyite grouping, has made its way into the pages of the Times, with the “unelected” chiefs of Momentum slated for turning the organisation into a “bland blur”.

The issue of contention: between those who see Momentum as an organisation to engage new members of the Labour party, who have been motivated by Jeremy Corbyn but are not yet Corbynites.

One trade unionist from that tendency described what they see the problem as like this: “you have people who have joined to vote for Jeremy, they’re going to meetings, but they’re voting for the Progress candidates in selections, they’re voting for Eddie Izzard [who stood as an independent but Corbynsceptic candidate] in the NEC”.  

On the other are those who see a fightback by Labour’s right and centre as inevitable, and who are trying to actively create a party within a party for what they see as an inevitable purge. One activist of that opinion wryly described Momentum as “Noah’s Ark”.

For both sides, Momentum, now financially stable thanks to its membership, which now stands at over 20,000, is a great prize. And in the firing line for those who want to turn Momentum into a parallel line is Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder.

Lansman, who came into politics as an aide to Tony Benn, is a figure of suspicion on parts of the broad left due to his decades-long commitment to the Labour party. His major opposition within Momentum and on its ruling executive comes from the AWL.

The removal of Jackie Walker as a vice-chair of Momentum after she said that Holocaust Memorial Day belittled victims of other genocides has boosted the AWL, although the AWL's Jill Mountford, who sits on Momentum's ruling executive, voted to remove Walker as vice-chair. (Walker remains on the NEC, as she has been elected by members). But despite that, the AWL, who have been critical of the process whereby Walker lost her post, have felt the benefit across the country.

Why? Because that battle has triggered a series of serious splits, not only in Momentum’s executive but its grassroots. A raft of local groups have thrown out the local leadership, mostly veterans of Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership, for what the friend of one defeated representative described as “people who believe the Canary [a pro-Corbyn politics website that is regularly accused of indulging and promoting conspiracy theories]”.

In a further series of reverses for the Lansmanite caucus, the North West, a Momentum stronghold since the organisation was founded just under a year ago, is slipping away from old allies of Lansman and towards the “new” left. As one insider put it, the transition is from longstanding members towards people who had been kicked out in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Neil Kinnock. The constituency party of Wallasey in particular is giving senior figures in Momentum headaches just as it is their opponents on the right of the party, with one lamenting that they have “lost control” of the group.

It now means that planned changes to Momentum’s structure, which the leadership had hoped to be rubberstamped by members, now face a fraught path to passage.

Adding to the organisation’s difficulties is the expected capture of James Schneider by the leader’s office. Schneider, who appears widely on television and radio as the public face of Momentum and is well-liked by journalists, has an offer on the table to join Jeremy Corbyn’s team at Westminster as a junior to Seumas Milne.

The move, while a coup for Corbyn, is one that Momentum – and some of Corbyn’s allies in the trade union movement – are keen to resist. Taking a job in the leader’s office would reduce still further the numbers of TV-friendly loyalists who can go on the airwaves and defend the leadership. There is frustration among the leader’s office that as well as Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, who are both considered to be both polished media performers and loyalists, TV bookers turn to Ken Livingstone, who is retired and unreliable, and Paul Mason, about whom opinions are divided within Momentum. Some regard Mason as a box office performer who needs a bigger role, others as a liability.

But all are agreed that Schneider’s expected departure will weaken the media presence of Corbyn loyalists and also damage Momentum. Schneider has spent much of his time not wrangling journalists but mediating in local branches and is regarded as instrumental in the places “where Momentum is working well” in the words of one trade unionist. (Cornwall is regarded as a particular example of what the organisation should be aiming towards)

It comes at a time when Momentum’s leadership is keen to focus both on its external campaigns but the struggle for control in the Labour party. Although Corbyn has never been stronger within the party, no Corbynite candidate has yet prevailed in a by-election, with the lack of available candidates at a council level regarded as part of the problem. Councilors face mandatory reselection as a matter of course, and the hope is that a bumper crop of pro-Corbyn local politicians will go on to form the bulk of the talent pool for vacant seats in future by-elections and in marginal seats at the general election.

But at present, a draining internal battle is sapping Momentum of much of its vitality. But Lansman retains two trump cards. The first is that as well as being the founder of the organisation, he is its de facto owner: the data from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns, without which much of the organisation could not properly run, is owned by a limited company of which he is sole director. But “rolling it up and starting again” is very much the nuclear option, that would further delay the left’s hopes of consolidating its power base in the party.

The second trump card, however, is the tribalism of many of the key players at a local level, who will resist infiltration by groups to Labour’s left just as fiercely as many on the right. As one veteran of both Corbyn’s campaigns reflected: “If those who have spent 20 years attacking our party think they have waiting allies in the left of Labour, they are woefully mistaken”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.