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18 August 2016updated 29 Jul 2021 11:14am

A week in Momentum, from courtrooms to coups

Inside the Corbyn surge, what we learned from Bernie Sanders and what Brexit means for Labour.

By James Schneider

There is no space in so few words to give an account of exactly what happened to Britain in the run-up to 23 June. But, whatever it represented, Brexit provided just about enough of a pretext for Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey to throw down a no-confidence motion for discussion at the Parliamentary Labour Party’s meeting the following Monday. There is no such procedure in Labour rules, but the long-planned coup by MPs had begun. The choreography continued with resignations from the shadow cabinet, timed for maximum damage at a time of national crisis. Soon, Brexit disappeared as a serious pretext.

We always knew that some in our party were planning to challenge Jeremy Corbyn before the next election. Now that it’s under way, we are doing well, but at times the past few weeks have still been shocking. Except for a bizarre attempt to keep Jeremy off the ballot altogether (more on that later), the organisers of the “Labour coup” have only a slim chance of winning – and they know it.

Their main argument is that Labour looks unelectable and poorly managed, and their primary tactic is to make Labour look as unelectable and poorly managed as possible. Some, of course, are just fighting for their ideas – but others appear to be engaged in a prolonged act of sabotage. If they can’t have Labour, no one can.

Renewing politics

The sheer scale of the movement behind Jeremy Corbyn, and his vision to rebuild and transform Britain so that no one and no community is left behind, is breathtaking, and I have been there pretty much from the beginning.

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Yes, some relationships in the party are being strained, and yes, we would all rather be fighting the Tories. But both the membership of Momentum and the Labour Party are skyrocketing. Momentum’s membership was roughly 4,000 at the beginning of the coup – it’s now over 17,000. Labour is the biggest political party in Europe, with over half a million members and growing. We don’t just get thousands at rallies in ­Liverpool; hundreds are turning up in villages in Cornwall.

This movement is not on the defensive. First in Momentum, and now in the leadership campaign, we’ve created systems and techniques that will revolutionise how political campaigning is done. We are learning from the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US, and trying as much as possible to make this campaign a laboratory for “digital” and other techniques that we can use to win a general election.

The coming of the fridges

The transformation of the “Jeremy for Labour” office in Euston, London, along with the campaign volunteer office in Holborn, has been startling. Suddenly, from being an under-resourced, volunteer-run organisation, we have become a well-oiled machine with a sizeable staff team. The eclectic mixture of office furniture was further enriched when a company downstairs decided to leave the UK post-Brexit and our entrepreneurial finance director bought up everything in their office for a very reasonable price. All of a sudden, the long-running ­argument about whether or not we could get a fridge is solved. We’ve got three.

Court rulings

Much of the past week has been spent anxiously awaiting news from courtrooms. Following a decision by the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) to disenfranchise all 130,000 members who joined since 12 January, some members took the party to court. I haven’t been involved in the case directly, but I can’t deny cheering them on – and not just because most of them would have voted our way.

In the end, we’re back to where we were: in the democratically ludicrous position of having a third of the party’s membership unable to elect the leader, even though they were told they would when they joined. If nothing else, this episode has exposed how democracy scares the powerful.

Trots, Trots everywhere

Very often, we find ourselves not in a battle of ideas, but in a battle over whether or not to have a battle of ideas. We know that Corbyn’s policies are hugely popular, among members and the wider population. This week, Jeremy launched policies for public ownership of public transport, something that most Tory voters support in polls, but it’s much larger than that. Pretty much every social and economic reform Jeremy and his team announces has majority public support – the neoliberal orthodoxy, in which politicians and commentators were schooled for the past thirty years, is melting.

In response, the Labour right kicks up dust. I find my phone buzzing at 6am with the revelation that Trotskyites are apparently behind the surge in Labour Party membership. No one seems interested that the biggest Labour-supporting Trot groups (the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Socialist Appeal) would be lucky to count 300 members between them. Instead, the main story centres around the Socialist Party (the artist formerly known as Militant Tendency), who aren’t actually in Labour and whose leadership is openly hostile to our party.

We could have a conversation about the hundreds of thousands of people engaging in politics for the first time. Instead, for one solid week, we get rolling coverage of the Socialist Party’s Peter Taaffe. In an interaction with an unnamed broadcaster, I try to bring perspective to the situation by arranging an appearance from a newly elected, Corbyn-supporting member of the NEC. I relax for half an hour, only to be rung up and told that someone elected by Labour members on a platform of engaging new members and growing the party is being pulled to make way for an interview with Derek Hatton, formerly of Militant.

A sense of exasperation strikes me, and then a question. Is this . . . trolling? Has the establishment run out of options and just started trolling us?

James Schneider is a national organiser for Momentum

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This article appears in the 17 Aug 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s revenge