In this article, James Gill fills us in on the newly announced constitution for Momentum, which you can read about here. James is a member of Unite, Labour and Momentum. He serves on the Central Council of the Socialist Health Association, and is secretary of Stockport Young Labour.
Being a member of Momentum is rarely boring. The last eighteen months have seen us run a vibrant fringe festival at party conference; help thousands of new members understand the Labour Party and get involved; and contribute to dozens of local single-issue, trade union and charity campaigns up and down the country. There was also the small matter of a Labour leadership contest along the way.
All this was achieved with an ad-hoc, informal and evolving set of structures. Any start-up must simultaneously begin to deliver and to scale upwards and outwards, and imposing structure and strict accountability too early risks locking yourself into the wrong model.
In Momentum’s case, the early phase is over, and the most effective direction has now become clear. More than forty percent of members responded to a survey on our structures and priorities, with four in five saying we must focus on Labour and organise nationally using direct democracy. To this end, the organisation yesterday adopted a new constitution, giving it the tools it needs to succeed.
The headline change is the adoption of a strict “Labour first” policy. You must be a member of the Labour Party before you can be a member of Momentum. Further, the needless policy conference is transmuted into workshops and networking. These measures make it strikingly clear that Momentum is serious about a vibrant, modern and socialist Labour Party, ready to win elections.
Several nascent layers of bureaucracy have been culled, including the ineffective and occasionally embarrassing national committee and regional networks. Decision-making is consolidated in one body, the National Co-ordinating Group (NCG) – thankfully much smaller than the original national committee. Its composition is dull but reliable, consisting of online OMOV-elected members’ reps, as well as representatives from trade unions, other left-Labour groups, and four spaces for Labour councillors or MPs. Its composition is balanced by gender, region, and to ensure representation of BAME members.
Other features are more innovative. Of particular interest is the Members’ Council, a kind of “Momentum Jury Service”. This body of fifty members will be randomised every six months, and work in an advisory capacity with the NCG. This is an excellent example of the usefulness of Momentum as a test-bed for the labour movement. Creating a body like this is risky – Momentum has the scale to experiment effectively and safely.
One upshot of the changes is that local groups shake off the requirement to hold hustings for regional networks and debate policy motions for conference. Local groups now serve no formal function in the national organisation. Most local committees will be breathing a sigh of relief – they can get on with training, networking, campaigning and encouraging their members to take action to make their principles into reality.
Some members may be disappointed by the perceived loss of democracy in the organisation. After all, there are now fewer elected positions, and a much more stringent mechanism for adopting campaign priorities. But what would be the point of arguing over those detailed policies? To change the wording of the odd Momentum press release? A much more worthwhile use of your time is to engage with Labour’s mechanisms instead: the National Policy Forum, your trade union’s Policy Conference, your Constituency Labour Party, and the Labour Party Conference itself. That way you might change something which really matters.
The overall effect of the new constitution is to create a sane, stable organisation with a plausible plan. I don’t blame the many members on the left of Labour who have been put off joining us in our first eighteen months; there have been too many echoes of the bad habits of the past. But we are stronger together, and Momentum is here to stay – there’s never been a better time to make yourself a part of it.