Labour has begun the work of building a mass party

While the Tories' membership dwindles, we are changing our party and processes to make politics relevant to ordinary people.

Politics matter and political parties matter. What they say and do matter. How a political party operates, raises money, recruits members and select candidates matters. Why? Because it gives us a lodestar, a set of values and guiding principles on how to deal with things.

Just chatting to my constituents, meeting them in the streets, or seeing them in my surgery, I know what ordinary people are facing on daily basis - a cost of living crisis that’s unprecedented. Prices have risen faster than wages in 38 of the 39 months that David Cameron has been in Downing Street. The average worker is around £1,500 worse off under this government than under the last Labour government. At the same time, David Cameron has cut taxes for people earning over £150,000 whilst hiking them up for everyone else.

David Cameron and George Osborne boast about fixing the economy, but ordinary people in Britain don’t feel it. Yet it’s no surprise that they are so out of touch with ordinary people.

The membership of the Tory Party is dwindling; they are funded by cash from their friends in the City, bankers and hedge fund managers. They listen to their big donors, the corporate lobbyists, the richest and the most powerful. That’s why we say David Cameron is not only out of touch with ordinary British families, he is always standing up for the wrong people.

It’s the way the Tory Party operates. It’s in their DNA. The Labour Party is very different. We want to govern in the interests of all the people and not just a narrow elite. We are a One Nation Labour Party that aspires to be a One Nation Labour Government.

But for us to truly to be a One Nation Party we need to reform and strengthen our party. We are proud that our members are ordinary people who come from all walks of life. Another great source of pride – and strength – are our links with trade unions who represent shop workers, bus drivers, office workers - the backbone of our economy. We are proud those ordinary workers are a part of the Labour Party, but we want them to play an even greater role in the party. Not just at edges but right in the centre.

And yes we are ambitious, we want to see a mass party – and yes we want to have ordinary Labour Party members in every street in Britain. It means members of trade unions, who are now affiliates, becoming full and active members. It will mean a stronger Labour Party.

So we have begun a process of talking and consulting with ordinary members, trade unionists and supporters to ask how we can strengthen our party. Headed by Lord Collins, our former general secretary, we are going to work out how we can really change our party structures, processes and finances to build a modern 21st century Labour Party. Ordinary members will get their say and will vote on the final proposals at a Special Conference in March.

This is an exciting time for us in the party. Exciting, because we know that by changing our party and processes, we will be changing how we do politics and so help make politics more relevant to ordinary people.

We are doing this because politics matter and political parties matter. We are doing this because we want to change the Labour Party to be ready, in less than two years' time, to be Britain’s One Nation Labour Government.

Phil Wilson is Labour MP for Sedgefield

Ed Miliband speaks to reporters after Labour candidate Andy Sawford won the Corby by-election on November 16, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
Labour candidate Phil Wilson is 48 years of age and has lived in the Sedgefield constituency all his life. His father worked down Fishburn colliery before closure.
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.