Blackberry's eager little group of fans is shrinking

What now?

I cannot remember the last time a friend or colleague chose to go with a BlackBerry. It seems I am not alone. Blackberry has just released a fairly calamitous set of results for the first quarter. On an underlying basis, BlackBerry posted a loss of $67m; analysts had forecast a small profit and revenue of $3.4bn.

What is really surprising is that BlackBerry does not seem to have reported how many of its BB10 units it sold in the first quarter. That rather begs the question: do they not know the answer or is the figure so dire they want to keep quiet about it. On a very quick straw poll around the office, I found one brave soul prepared to admit that he had considered buying the latest BlackBerry.

One. Out of more than 20 people.

There was a time, not so long ago, when BlackBerry had its own little group of loyal fans, ever-eager to highlight the alleged attractions of the Blackberry when compared to Apple’s iPhone and the various Android devices. According to the firm, BlackBerry’s most recently launched devices were designed to bring back loyal customers to the fold. That project seems to be failing.

Except we do not know exactly the extent of the failure until and unless BlackBerry own up to the number of units sold in the first quarter. BlackBerry said that it sold 6.8m handsets in the quarter, up 13 per cent from the last quarter of 2012 – but gave no hint about how many of the 6.8 million phones were BB10 devices. Analyst forecasts suggested that BlackBerry would sell 7.5 million units in total in the quarter. So a big miss. The earnings got worse – or funnier – depending on your point of view. BlackBerry declined to predict how many handsets it will sell in the remainder of 2013.

It really is quite a fall from grace. BlackBerry was the original smartphone, predating the iPhone and winning plaudits long before Samsung Galaxy’s dominated the Android sales charts. The Q10 handset was released in March to generally favourable reviews from the tech geeks.

It is not cheap. This morning, Amazon had nine available for sale, at £480 each. For that sort of money, one can buy the most recent Galaxy S4 (£465) or the iPhone 5 (£470). The market viewed BlackBerry’s results with horror this morning: at one stage in pre-market trading, the stock was down 24 per cent. The price recovered a little to be down a mere 16 per cent when trading commenced.

So what next for BlackBerry? Only two weeks ago, Societe Generale sent out a note to clients upgrading its rating on BlackBerry to Buy. The fourth-largest US bank, Wells-Fargo issued an upbeat assessment for BlackBerry as recently as 14 June. Not every analyst is negative regarding BlackBerry by any means and the stock price is certainly volatile.

It kicked off 2013 with a share price of CS11.60; despite todays bad news, the share price is up more than 25 per cent for the year to date at C$15 but well down on its year-high price of C$18. No doubt there will be scribblers out there rushing to suggest that BlackBerry is the next Palm and that BlackBerry’s days are numbered. BlackBerry is no palm; not yet anyway.

Its cash position is strong. It has over £7bn in assets compared with les than $4bn in total liabilities. But it needs to give the market a little more guidance on how the latest device is selling. And it really could do with a strong second quarter.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.