William Sarsfield of Labour Party Marxists looks at the new Lansman constitution
Labour left should embrace radical democracy, not kill it
I really hope that readers will find the time to plough through the near 4,000 words of convoluted sub-clauses and provisos in the latest Lansman constitution. Like mainstream news outlets such as the Daily Mirror, The Guardian and The Times, the online Labour List site parrots the official spin from team Momentum that the so-called “member shake-up” is primarily about a Momentum move to seek affiliation to Labour. As an afterthought, it mentions that “The Corbynista group last night told its 20,000 members it had introduced a constitution” - which is just about accurate.1 This important development has simply been announced as a fait accompli and, as such, the manner of its arrival suits the contents of the crassly bureaucratic ethos of the document itself.
Jon Lansman has evidently grown weary of even the pretence of democracy in ‘his’ organisation. This constitution was sent out amongst a raft of papers on January 10 after, Lansman informs us, “consultation with a number of others in Momentum, the leader’s office and trade unions that have supported Jeremy Corbyn”. He is explicit that it means “[winding] up the steering committee, the national committee and the conference arrangements committee with immediate effect” and, “though the conference would go ahead” on February 18, it would be bound by the “new rules”, which mean that “no motions would be considered”. In effect, ownership rights have, for the moment, triumphed over democratic rights. If you “consent” to this coup, “you don’t have to do anything”, Lansman assures us: thoughtfully however, he supplies an email address to fire your resignation off to “if you wish to opt out.”
The comrade clearly wants some of us to sling our hooks. His covering letter underlines that future Momentum membership requires “all members to be [Labour] party members” - in contrast to the February 7 2016 communication from team Momentum that told us that the organisation was open to “Labour members, affiliated supporters, and supporters of the aims and values of the Labour Party, who are not members of other political parties”.
The repetition of the same narrowed view of the Momentum membership is reiterated at different points in the imposed constitution. In a sub-section titled ‘Ceasing to be a member’, we are informed that that you will have been “deemed to have resigned” from the organisation if you have not “[joined] the Labour Party by July 1 2017”; or you are out of Momentum if you “[cease] to be a member of the Labour Party” at any point (including if you are expelled by the witch-hunting right, presumably); or if you “[act] inconsistently with Labour Party membership” (like perhaps call a rightwing scab like John Mann MP “a rightwing scab”, perhaps?)
Regular readers of the LPM Bulletin should recall that we have previously featured the nasty comments of Lansman fan Laura Murray - herself a Stalinist chip off the old Andrew Murray block - who wrote that, “Given that Nick Wrack, Jill Mountford and Jackie Walker are, in turn, blocked, expelled and suspended from being members of the Labour Party, it is unsurprising that they care little for reforming and democratising the Labour Party.” We wondered at the time whether “we see here the beginnings of an attempt to oust those members of Momentum who have been expelled and suspended from the Labour Party?”2 Lansman has now answered the query, we think.
The ‘Labour members only’ criterion makes another appearance under the section describing the operation of the new leadership body, the “national coordinating group” (NCG). This “shall consist of Momentum members who confirm (and can provide evidence on request) that they are current Labour Party members” and “confirm their agreement to the rules of Momentum”. What, all the rules? All the time?
In addition to abolishing existing democratic structures (such as they are), the announcement of a new leadership body effectively negates any real democratic control from below. Jackie Walker estimates that just 12 out of the 31 people on the NCG would be rank-and-file members - the rest would be comprised of MPs, councillors and union delegates. Her figures might well be right, although the Lansman constitution is so dense and convoluted in places it is difficult to be sure what the final numbers would be. Her basic point is spot on, however.
The active base of Momentum - members organised in branches, running campaigns, discussing politics - is drastically underrepresented in the Lansman constitution. The entire country is to be carved into just three “divisions”: “the North and Scotland”, “Midlands, Wales and the West” and “the South”, with each of these allocated just four reps each. That is, a total of just 12 comrades.
This is farcical.
For instance, there is a national question in Scotland that does not find a reflection in Sunderland. The issues of London - the capital city and political hub of British life - have a rather different dynamic to those in Dover. Cardiff is not St Ives.
Lansman’s actual motivations are clear, especially when we scan the list of the other groups that will - by right - be represented on the NCG. There will be:
- six places for (current, we assume) affiliated unions
- four Labour members who are elected to some official post - eg, MPs, members of the Welsh or Scottish Assemblies (even police commissioners, we are told)
- “up to four additional members”, who may be coopted at the discretion of the NCG - although the criteria for what is, in any organisation, an exceptional action are not made clear. I think readers might be able to hazard a guess, however …
- one place each from the Scottish group, Campaign for Socialism, and Welsh Labour Grassroots (voted for by the membership in those regions? We are not told).
- four places from other “affiliated organisations, as defined in rules 11 (iii) and (iv) …” Thirteen such groups (including, confusingly, the Campaign for Socialism and Welsh Labour Grassroots) are actually listed, which begs the question of how those four places will be determined. Some other interesting organisations that “may affiliate” to Momentum, as the document coyly puts it, include “The World Transformed” - the event organised by the central team Momentum at September’s Labour Party conference; Lansman’s blog platform3, Left Futures; Red Labour; Christine Shawcroft’s Labour Briefing Cooperative, Compass, etc.
In the original constitutional proposals that I critiqued in a previous article, I mocked the absurd suggestion that “In addition to the 12 [steering committee] members, on a three-month rotational basis, three members of Momentum, drawn at random, will be invited to join the SC.”4 This idea is developed further in Lansman’s actual constitution, only this time the lucky rank-and-file lottery winners (50 of them now) are to be parked in a “members’ council” (MC) rather than them cluttering up the actual leadership.
Instead, the MC will be gifted the “opportunity to directly participate in the development of activities, resources and campaigns for the use of Momentum members and groups”, while the “format of this engagement will be defined by the NCG, having regard to the requirements of the individual members of the council”. Under no circumstances will the MC “be required to make decisions on the operation of the constitution or administration of the organisation, this being the remit of the NCG, but it may review decisions of the NCG and the administration of the organisation” and “make recommendations and provide advice on the basis of its findings”.
There is much more to dissect in this contemptible document, but if there is one proposal in it that reveals the real, thoroughly anti-democratic agenda of Lansman and co it is this “members’ council” - a cynical Potemkin village-type stunt.
1. https://labourlist.org, January 11 2017.
2. ‘The nuclear option’ Weekly Worker December 8 2016.
4. ‘Fit for a dictator’ Weekly Worker December 15 2016.