Jon Lansman: no trust in branch, regional or national delegates

Sole director wants to dispense with representative democracy

Stan Keable of Labour Party Marxists reports on the botched Bonapartist coup and the ongoing rebellion

“Democratic governance”- long promised by those in control of Momentum and suspiciously slow in coming - was unceremoniously dumped in a bureaucratic coup on the evening of Friday October 28. A spurious “emergency” meeting of the national steering committee (SC), convened at less than 24 hours notice by Momentum boss Jon Lansman - sole director of Momentum Campaigns (Services) Limited - cancelled the November 5 meeting of the national committee, and then proceeded to usurp its authority, overriding the planned NC discussion on Momentum’s February 2017 first conference and the form it would take.

The cancellation was announced at 7am on the Saturday morning. Not surprisingly this changed somewhat the agenda of the London regional committee. We had been due to meet that day to discuss conference structure and pre-conference procedures. A ‘big brother’-type email from “Team Momentum” to all members, under the Orwellian title, “Shape Momentum’s democratic future”, announced the SC imposition of an online voting conference, without admitting that the NC meeting had been cancelled.

Since then there has been a partial climbdown. A full meeting of the SC on November 2 issued a contrite statement, which talked about the lack of sufficient “communication” and not enough “consultation”. However, the divisions remain. One side, the SC majority, wants to dispense with representative democracy. The other side, the NC majority, wants the election of branch officers, regional committees and a delegate conference.

Frankly, Lansman’s botched coup was prompted by fear. Fear of losing control. And, worryingly, we must presume that Lansman acted the way he did after consulting with either Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell - it is surely inconceivable that he would proceed in that way without their say-so. Clearly, Lansman did not like the way discussions about conference were going in the regions, and did not like the swathe of new NC delegates who are being elected in the regions.

Like any good Bonapartist, he claimed that the SC had to cancel the November 5 meeting of the NC because of an “emergency”. What was this emergency? A clash of dates which had been known for several weeks, ever since the NC date had been announced: November 5 is also the date of the North West regional conference of the Labour Party. North West delegates to Momentum’s NC could not attend both events. But such things are impossible to avoid. However, this was a mere excuse, a fig leaf. The real agenda was Lansman’s proposal, pulled out of a hat halfway through the October 28 SC meeting, concerning Momentum’s national conference. Though it is the highest body in Momentum, the NC was to have no say over this vital matter. Full marks to Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, who recognised a stitch-up in the making and refused to attend the meeting because it was “illegitimate” - he is now leading the campaign for the NC to take back control (see box).

The October 28 SC majority pre-empted the NC discussion, and the discussions underway in all local groups and regional committees, and imposed their own preference - that conference decisions will be made not by delegates, but by an atomised membership voting online after conference - wide open to manipulation by ‘Team Momentum’. Apparently conference will be live-streamed and will doubtless feature many, many platform speakers. This proposal was carried by seven votes to two (Jon Lansman, Christine Shawcroft, Sam Tarry, Marsha-Jane Thompson, Darren Williams, Cecile Wright were in favour; Jill Mountford and Michael Chessum voted against; and Martyn Cooke abstained).

The organisation built on the back of the first Jeremy4Leader campaign in 2015, to democratise and transform the Labour Party and build “a new kind of politics”, is suffering from bureaucratic, behind-the-scenes shenanigans worthy of Labour’s most accomplished rightwing fixers. But the rank and file, the local groups and regional committees are in rebellion. An unofficial meeting of NC members - many of them recently elected at regional committee meetings - will be held in Birmingham on November 5 to discuss the way forward. That despite the partial climbdown.

The NC has only met twice. Its first gathering, in February 2016, decided it would meet quarterly, and it elected a temporary steering committee to meet more frequently, but to serve for only a six-month period, until August. Since the NC’s second meeting, in May, the SC has spent the subsequent five months preventing the NC from meeting, much to the increasing frustration of activists trying to build the local groups and regional committees.

London initiative

The 36 delegates at the October 29 London regional committee (I was representing Hammersmith and Fulham) were understandably outraged. As London chair Delia Mattis put it, “We have been betrayed. We have kept quiet for too long. This committee has a mandate - the steering committee has no mandate.” After a long discussion, in which Jon Lansman attempted to defend his behaviour, we adopted the following motion of censure, moved by Southwark delegate Nick Wrack:

This meeting of the London Momentum regional committee censures the national steering committee for cancelling the meeting of the national committee that was scheduled for November 5 and agreeing a method of organising the national conference without waiting for the national committee to discuss it.

We do not recognise the legitimacy of the steering committee to make these decisions.

We call for these decisions of the national steering committee to be rescinded and for the NC to proceed as originally scheduled on November 5.

Matt Wrack pointed out in his subsequent message to the SC, asking them to reverse their decision: “Jon Lansman, as chair of the SC, could find no support whatsoever from a single delegate from a single London Momentum group.” Lansman’s excuse for cancelling the NC meeting was that some local groups and regional committees, and even the NC itself, “lacked legitimacy” - but, as far as the London committee was concerned, it was the SC which lacked legitimacy, being three months beyond its remit, with no right to substitute for the “most legitimate body”, the NC, which appointed it in the first place.

In the London discussion, Lansman’s fears came into view - fear of democratic structures beyond his control, fear of what local groups might decide, fear of left groups, especially the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, whose members have been working to build Momentum and deservedly been elected to positions at local, regional and national levels.

“It is very difficult,” he said, “to hold together the broad alliance which supports Jeremy.” This clearly implies behind-closed-doors fixes, for the sake of appearances, rather than solving differences through open discussion. Translation: The left must be silenced to avoid disagreements driving ordinary people away. “We must trust the members,” he said - meaning those voting online at home, safely away from the debate that takes place at genuine conferences - “not the much smaller numbers of people who turn up to meetings and stay as long as it takes to win the argument”. He is against Momentum having a “multi-tiered, bureaucratic structure”. Translation: against a democratic structure of representative democracy.

When Matt Wrack addressed the London committee, he gave his opinion that Lansman (who was present) has a morbid fear of the members, who are organised in local groups and regional committees which he cannot control:

Complaining about the ‘hard left’ and ‘self-appointed activists’ is DailyMail speak. I did not attend the SC last night because it was illegitimate. It was an underhand, undemocratic stitch-up.

The November 2 SC agreed that a meeting of the NC “will take place on December 3” and another in January. But it is clear that the NC should bring its SC to heel. The NC should elect itself another SC. Meantime, NC members will be making their way to Birmingham this Saturday.