Last summer, like many other young people, we signed up to help Jeremy Corbyn get elected. We were inspired by his position on issues like secure jobs, free education, and stopping the cuts to public services we rely on. And we were inspired by his honesty, openness, and the way in which he explained clearly how all these ideas were possible.
The environment we found was welcoming and inclusive. Our ideas and opinions were respected in a way that is sadly still rare for women generally, much less younger women. As Jeremy won and many of the campaign team stayed together as Momentum, we were given real responsibilities quickly – helping plan and deliver phonebanks, organising and helping out local Momentum groups and running campaigns.
Our desire to be welcoming meant that the last thing we thought about was running security checks on the people who volunteered for us. So, of course, a few people turn up at our events who have been members of other parties, but the idea that we’re being infiltrated by Trotskyists is nonsense. We’ve rarely if ever met one – and we’re clear that members of other parties aren’t allowed join Momentum (that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways of working with people across the political spectrum to achieve change). We have our rules and ethics; but to be honest, we’ve not had much use for them – our people are committed to a more decent society and a kinder politics.
The sad truth is we are more likely to be infiltrated by journalists than Trotskyists. If someone had said a year ago that campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn would lead me to be secretly filmed through a handbag by someone pretending to be another enthusiastic volunteer, we wouldn’t have believed them. But it’s happened twice already now – and many of the young people who volunteer with Momentum now feel hurt and manipulated. We’ve had our words twisted out of context, our loyalties to our party questioned and our trust breached. And this behaviour from public institutions should worry people across Labour, including those who disagree with us on policy.
After the first Mail on Sunday journalist was revealed, after he’d posed as socially awkward and naïve to gain the trust of many in the office, the women in our team sat down together to share how they felt about it in a safe environment. Deeply personal stories were told, and were possibly being filmed the whole time by the Dispatches journalist. A couple of days earlier at Jeremy Corbyn’s press launch many of us who accompanied Labour’s leader to a public event were attacked in the Mail as “besotted groupies” with personal remarks about our appearance sprinkled throughout the article. The online abuse and trolling piled in at the same time. The way in which people are treated for daring to support Corbyn or join Momentum is rarely discussed – perhaps because we don’t discuss it, not wanting to dissuade people from getting involved, which is still an overwhelmingly positive experience.
We’re determined not to let them win. If we were to respond to the three known secret “investigations” carried out into Momentum by shutting our doors and being suspicious of everyone, we would lose everything that makes Momentum a genuine force for positive change. Our central idea is that by having open conversations and empowering people, we can make our democracy healthier, make change in our communities and mobilise more people around the need for a Labour government.
If people want to know what Momentum is here for, they can just ask. With the level of scrutiny we are under constantly, we couldn’t cover up and secretly plot even if we were trying to. Momentum isn’t something from the 1980s faction fights that some people still seem to be stuck in – none of us were born then. It’s a new initiative, inspired by the vision of a fairer society that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaigns represents. Its membership is young and old, from all genders and ethnicities and backgrounds, in every corner of Britain, and united by a common commitment to the Labour movement. We’re about opposing cuts, inequality, poverty and injustice – but more importantly, about reaching out to people, building communities, and making politics something people want to be involved with again. And we’re here to stay.