Independent Momentum NCG candidates: South East and South West

Responses from independent candidates for Momentum's NCG. Today: Zaid Marham the for South East and South West.

With the left still reeling from defeat in the 2019 general election and the leadership campaign which followed, the elections to the Momentum National Coordinating Group (NCG) represent a major opportunity for a critical appraisal of the last five years – and what the left does next.

Unfortunately, the level of discussion within internal elections has generally been quite low - and this one is no exception. On 31st May, therefore, New Socialist reached out to the two main national slates (Momentum Renewal and Forward Momentum) with a series of questions for candidates in each region. We’ve tried to tease out differences between the slates and pin them down on some of the difficult questions – we’ll leave it to you to determine how well they’ve stepped up. We are also giving independent candidates the opportunity to put forward their arguments for why you should consider voting for them.

We’d encourage you to look at slates’ and responses in other sections, and candidates’ responses to the pledges put together by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights and the Labour Campaign for Free Movement. New Socialist would also note that it’s not enough to sign pledges and then equivocate over supporting them – you either support them or you don’t. In some of the answers we received to our questions, particularly over the tenth LCTR pledge (‘Support the expulsion from the Labour Party of those who express bigoted, transphobic views’), we’re concerned by hints that candidates might be willing to row back. New Socialist believes that it’s necessary to be able to draw lines, and that worries about the possibility of unfair expulsions can be a handy cover for people who’d oppose expulsions in any circumstances. We would also like to reiterate our support for the ninth pledge, which demands organising and fighting ‘against transphobic organisations such as Woman’s Place UK, LGB Alliance and other trans-exclusionist hate groups.’ The transphobia of these groups is well documented and a demand to oppose them is merely a demand to be consistent in our opposition to bigotry and exclusion and to make good on the provisions in the Labour rulebook that ‘No member of the Party shall engage in conduct which… might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on… gender reassignment or identity’.

More information about the NCG elections, which close on Tuesday 30th June, can be found here. The full list of candidates is here – Momentum’s regions, which leave a lot to be desired, are based on European parliamentary constituencies (unless you’re in Cumbria). You can search for yours here.

The interviews with the two main slates were published over the last week, we will now be publishing responses from independents.

Wednesday 17th: London
Thursday 18th: Midlands and East
Friday 19th: North West and Wales
Saturday 20th: Public Office Holders
Sunday 21st: South East and South West
Monday 22nd: Yorkshire, North East, Cumbria, Scotland and International

Zaid Marham

Every few years a new left initiative is launched. It’s presented as exciting and dynamic, and ends up failing for similar reasons to its predecessors. Then comes another project, then another, and so the cycle continues. The debate around the Momentum NCG elections may not seem new and exciting – but, in all other respects, the weary feeling of déjà vu is unmistakable. So far, there seems to be no serious appreciation either of the mistakes we made, or of the extent of the left’s defeat, or of its potential consequences.

Analyses I’ve seen talk of insufficient democracy, the leadership not being trusted, being too London-centric, and so on. No doubt this reflects genuine grievances – but their significance is overstated. To a large extent, local groups have always been as autonomous as they’ve wanted to be. They’ve been able to campaign in their own localities on whatever issues they’ve wanted. They’ve been able to raise their own funds and spend them as they wish, they’ve been able to compile their own contact lists, send out emails, and so on.

Focusing on these things detracts from the real problem – one aspect of which was that the arguments we used were so ineffective. All over social media we were loudly proclaiming that Corbyn was kind and empathetic, that Johnson had compared people with letterboxes, and so on. These arguments were unconvincing because they concentrated on personality. They did not advance people’s understanding.

The actual problem is that class consciousness on the left is at a very low level – probably because hundreds of thousands suddenly became politically active at a time when the Labour left had been marginalized for decades. This low political level also had other consequences. We were intellectually ill-equipped to deal with attacks from the Labour right. We could not respond effectively to the antisemitism issue. We were fooled far too easily by the so-called People’s Vote campaign. We insulted Leave voters then asked for their vote. In the recent leadership election, many who had previously voted for Corbyn now voted for Starmer. Extraordinarily, Momentum supported Rayner for deputy!

Any analysis which fails to consider these points is of limited use. Neither more democracy, nor more trust in the leadership, nor a different distribution of resources would have addressed them. We need a programme of political education. By this, I don’t mean – as some who use the phrase seem to – explanation of Labour’s internal rules, structures, and procedures. I mean our members have to be educated in classical socialism. They need to be taught about capitalism and imperialism, and about democracy. Socialists disagree on many issues. That’s fine. Political education should not be delivered as dogma, but done in a way which encourages debate and allows people to reach differing conclusions on matters of theory, strategy, and tactics.

Education on imperialism is particularly crucial. The one thing which most distinguished Corbyn and Benn – and which prompted the majority of anti-Corbyn smears – was their opposition to British nuclear weapons and to aggressive militarism. The prospect of a Corbyn government hindering imperialism, not that of having to pay more tax, is what really frightened the ruling class. Momentum has never been strong on this question. Nationally we made little comment on the coup in Bolivia or the attempted coup in Venezuela (although what we said was good!). Many members today support the Black Lives Matter campaign, but lionize Obama – who destroyed Libya and brought the slave trade back to the country.

On the NEC elections, people talk as if this is still 2018. Let’s get real: not so long ago, the left had all nine of those NEC positions, it had the leadership, and it had the good will of the vast majority of members. And what we achieved was essentially nothing. The right had none of those things. And what they achieved – or are on their way to achieving – was essentially everything they wanted. There must be many lessons there. Isn’t it worth discussing what they might be, before we decide our approach? However, here we are, being told of the ‘crucial importance’ of the NEC slate and being asked to discuss how it should be chosen, as if none of that happened. It would be easier (and almost no less effective!) to stick our fingers in our ears and sing lalala.

After covid-19 it is entirely possible that we are going to see unprecedentedly savage austerity and attacks on civil liberties. Many will be plunged into poverty. We may see more wars. If so there is every chance that Labour, being a “responsible opposition”, will fall in line behind the government. In that context our primary focus cannot be internal Labour Party matters or the next general election.

Our tasks for the coming period should be to:

• focus extensively on political education, learn all the lessons of the Corbyn period we can, and have a serious discussion on what that means for us going forward.

• keep intact, as far as possible, the contacts, relationships, and networks we’ve built up, regardless of whether the people involved stay in the Labour Party, regardless of what organizations they end up joining or what political activities they do. We must not let being in different organizations hamper the raising of class consciousness across the left.

• ensure, within that framework, that local Momentum groups can continue to do the things they want to do and develop in the way they want to develop, and be adequately resourced from the centre.

There will come a time when large numbers of people are willing to listen to the left again. We – the left in general, inside and outside Momentum, inside and outside the Labour Party – should aim by then to know what we want to tell them. And it needs to be something a bit more intelligent than “Stop Brexit” or “Boris’s dad said we don’t know how to spell Pinocchio”!

(Editors’ note: at the time of publication, Zaid Marham has not signed the LCTR pledges)