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28 November 2019

Momentum’s changing priorities reflect Jeremy Corbyn’s dominance of Labour

The only question is whether that new mood will, as with the last period of Labour dominance, give way to new factions within the party's now-all-conquering Corbynite tendency.

By Stephen Bush

Momentum 2.0? The pro-Corbyn organisation will turn its focus away from internal reform of the Labour Party and towards policy at this autumn’s Labour Party Conference, backing motions to make the United Kingom a zero-carbon economy by 2030, to move towards a four-day working week and to close all migrant detention centres.

Although factional organisations within the Labour Party, like Momentum, have no formal role at the party’s conference, they compete with one another to secure the nomination of their preferred delegates at party conference, and then issue guidance – they cannot formally bind delegates – on how to vote on key issues.

Of course, Momentum has asked delegates to vote on policy issues before, but as part of a series of tactical battles to restrict debate on issues the Labour leadership finds uncomfortable, an old and well-established trick by the Labour Party’s power brokers to avoid difficult floor flights at party conference.

The big difference now is that Momentum is positively pushing a set of policies and aims, rather than reactively picking policies based on their chance of shunting out unfavourable topics. All of the named topics thus far are very much in keeping with the thinking of the leadership’s movers and shakers, both within the offices and minds of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott but also within the network of sympathetic policy wonks and former advisors outside of it.

On some topics – the four-day week and the closure of detention centres – the party’s own policy thinking is fairly advanced; while on others, Labour’s rhetoric is supportive but its policy programme is less well developed.

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It reflects both the extent, and the limits, of Jeremy Corbyn’s dominance within the party’s power structures. Changes to the party’s trigger ballot system last year have, in reality, reintroduced mandatory reselection of all sitting MPs by stealth, and cannily avoided weeks of angry reaction in the press as a result. The process for nominating a new leader has been reworked as well, although Labour MPs and the big trades unions still retain a measure of their ability to act as a gatekeepers.

It’s not to say there is no remaining work that could be done to change the internal structures of the Labour Party, but it all rubs up against the interests of the party’s other power brokers.

That only the most pessimistic of Corbynites think that there is any realistic prospect that Corbyn will be dislodged as leader, or that Corbynism will be eradicated from the party’s platform this side of an election, also makes it easier for loyalists who support the party’s overall direction of travel but have objections or reservations about parts of the platform to express themselves.

One loyalist MP recently told me they now felt “liberated” to criticise parts of the platform without fear that they would wake up to find that Corbyn had been brought down by the party’s Corbynsceptics. Now, with dominance in the party beyond even that of Tony Blair in the 1990s, they can express themselves. The only question is whether that new mood will, as with the last period of Labour dominance, give way to new factions within the party’s now-all-conquering Corbynite tendency.

[See also: Will Jeremy Corbyn agree to step aside in Islington North?]

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