On Labour Uncut, the Milibands and Diane Abbott

Yes DM may well win. But to say he "has won" may not help him

I have a strict policy of not responding to personalised blog stuff on the web. But given that I am such a fan of Labour Uncut, and given that it is so widely read in serious Labour circles, I have to respond to a passing reference in Dan Hodges's flowery piece today claiming I have argued that "Diane Abbott would prevail" in the Labour leadership contest. As it happens, I have long known that one of the Miliband brothers would be the next Labour leader, and was I think the first journalist to tip Ed Miliband as Gordon Brown's successor back in 2008 when the younger brother was barely on the leadership radar. Conversely, since the idea of Ed Miliband being next leader has become more conventional, I have been more torn about which brother will win, and repeatedly recorded David Miliband's successes in the campaign (incidentally all of this is different from who "should" win).

Now, it is true that I reported relatively early that Abbott looked like she would make the ballot paper, and then wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog reporting a Labour source explaining how she could win like Harriet Harman won the deputy leadership contest from the outside in 2007. Qualifying the blog with the headline "don't laugh", I concluded: "So, will Diane Abbott be the Harriet Harman of 2010? In reality, almost certainly not. But do not underestimate the unpredictability of this contest."

For the record, I do not think and never have thought that Abbott can or will win this contest. But there is -- still -- "unpredictability" over which of the Milibands will win. Which is why it is mildly odd that Hodges's piece, more importantly, is all about how David Miliband has already won. Nor, I suspect, is it particularly helpful to, er, David Miliband.

PS: Talking of LabourUncut, there was another interesting piece on there yesterday, this time by the new Labour MP Michael Dugher about the need for a move away from top-down leadership of the party. In it, Dugher wrote:

[The] new leader will not have the mandate - whoever wins - that either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown had. This has been a contest, not a coronation, and the outcome is likely to be very close.

I thought I'd mis-read this and my eyes had invented the "not" in the first bit of the sentence. Dugher is a very smart and rather wise guy, but surely the point about this new leader is that he will have a mandate that Brown -- and to an extent Blair -- lacked, as this is the first real contest since Michael Foot became leader in 1980. If David Miliband wins, he will be all the more powerful for having seen off a ruthless bid by the Ed Miliband team to beat him. If Ed Miliband wins, sources close to him say he will have the "mandate" to implement a leadership to the left of New Labour, contrary to the conventional view that he will bring his party back to the centre.

PPS: Look out for my tips for some unexpected names in the shadow cabinet, and some ones to watch along with a lengthy Harriet Harman interview in this week's magazine.

UPDATE: For the record, when I say that Ed Miliband may not lurch to the right if he wins, I am very much not buying into the "Red Ed" nonsense about him being a mad Trot who could never win an election.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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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.