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Pro-Corbyn group Momentum vows to resist SWP "infiltration"

New organisation rebukes the Socialist Workers Party after it calls for its members to attend meetings. 

When new group Momentum was launched by Jeremy Corbyn supporters, Labour MPs were immediately alarmed by its decision to allow non-party members to sign up. This, they warned, risked far-left entryism and the creation of a Militant-style "party within a party". 

Their fears were given greater credence yesterday by the announcement by the Socialist Workers Party, the most loathed Trotskyist groupuscule, that it intends to participate in Momentum. The SWP's "Party Notes" stated: "There are also various initiatives to re-launch the Labour left. Momentum which has the backing of a group of newly elected Corbyn-supporting MPs such as Clive Lewis and Richard Burgon, looks like it might be the most significant to date (Corbyn and McDonnell have also made supporting statements backing it). It does not seem restricted to Labour members, though it says it will aim to encourage people to join Labour. We should go along to any local Momentum meetings with the aim of taking part as open SWP members, suggesting joint activity, and sign up to be on the email lists. A launch meeting in Manchester last week attracted 70 people, many of them new and comrades had a friendly response when they raised common activity."

For Momentum's Labour supporters, the involvement of the SWP (see Edward Platt's 2014 NS piece for an account of the party's multiple woes) would be a political catastrophe. Indeed, it is precisely because the SWP recognises that its participation would discredit the group that it has adopted this strategy. It intends to support Momentum as the noose supports a hanged man. 

It is notable, then, that the group's founders have moved swiftly to repudiate the SWP. An article on Left Futures, the site edited by Momentum director Jon Lansman, declares: "There are extremely good reasons why the SWP and my erstwhile comrades in the Socialist Party should be told to sling their hook when they try and get involved. A passing acquaintance with them is all it takes to understand that they’re fundamentally uninterested in building the wider labour movement, let alone the Labour Party – which is one of Momentum‘s explicit objectives. During the summer the SWP looked upon stormin’ Corbyn with indifference and barely any comment. For the Socialist Party, because Labour was a “capitalist party” Jeremy couldn’t possibly win and it was dead as far as socialist politics were concerned." 

After Progress director Richard Angell called on Momentum to "make clear they are opposed to the infiltration of Labour by the SWP and they are neither welcome at their meetings not in their policy making", a spokesperson for the group said: "We oppose the infiltration of the Labour Party by the SWP and we would like to meet with Progress and other groups within the Labour Party soon to build constructive relations."

But the suspicion that Momentum will be infiltrated by hostile left-wingers is likely to endure. If SWP members are to be formally excluded from meetings, the new fear is that its activists go undercover (though it is worth recalling how few there now are). Shadow minister Clive Lewis, a Momentum director, told me this week: "If people are concerned about Momentum, all I would say is judge it on what it does." But for Labour MPs, the jury will remain out for some time. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

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