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Feeling the Momentum in York

Image credit: www.businessinsider.com
Image credit: www.businessinsider.com
Image credit: www.businessinsider.com

Though only a young organisation, the effects of Momentum, a new grassroots political movement, have been noticed nationally. Dubbed the ground force behind the victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party leadership contest, Momentum is making itself known across many regions around the United Kingdom and will be playing a role in more political events to come. Although Momentum aligns itself with traditional Labour values, anyone is allowed to become a member of the movement, urging many critics (including members of the Labour Party) to fear that the popular group will be infiltrated and hijacked by dogmatic socialist troublemakers. Last week I attended a meeting of York’s branch of Momentum in the Friends’ Meeting Place in the city centre, hearing Adam Klug, a prominent member of the group and a mind behind Jeremy Corbyn’s arts policy, speak.

Momentum emerged in the summer of 2015, shortly after Jeremy Corbyn narrowly made it into the race for the leadership of the Labour Party following its defeat in the May election. Jeremy Corbyn’s principles, approach and appearance awakened a political spirit that had been napping for some decades. Above all, it was an energy, permeating the politics on the ground level, that was the most noticeable feature. From ‘Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader’ came ‘Momentum’, a “network of people and organisations that will continue the energy and enthusiasm of [Corbyn’s] campaign.” They have been referred to as Corbyn’s Praetorian Guard, said Klug.

Momentum has come into existence in a way unlike most other organisations: the movement began with protests, rallies and volunteer operations all strung together by collaboration via the Internet and social media. Despite being credited as the strongest grassroots movement of the successful Corbyn leadership bid, Momentum has yet to establish a governing body or a hierarchical structure of organisation. Many of its images come from its members’ Facebook photo feeds; social media is its platform of publicity. But its members and collaborators are active and keen to expand.

Anyone is welcome to volunteer for Momentum, though it is clear that Momentum lends its support to the Labour Party and socialism in general. This has prompted suggestions that Momentum will be infiltrated by diehard socialists, leftist extremists, Trotskyites and anti-capitalists. But attending a meeting in York earlier this week, I discovered no ardent revolutionaries. There were no wreckers and saboteurs that some commentators, both Labour- and Conservative-leaning, imagine there to be.

The meeting was attended by the young and the old. Elderly members spoke about their many years of membership in the Labour Party or their disillusionment with mainstream politics prior to the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn. One insisted that, when he joined the party in his teens, Labour was a fighting force that would not back down when its convictions were challenged – it ended up achieving a National Health Service; but in modern times it had been stolen by “horrible crooks” by the names of Blair and Mandelson, trading principles for public relations and leading the country into an unjust war. A Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn would be a refreshing, rejuvenating new party that would win (and is winning) many people who had given up on voting back to the fold.

This, of course, is the political vitality that Momentum and its affiliates seek to harness. There is no need for dastardly ‘lefties’ to stimulate enthusiasm of Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘new politics’ nor encourage opposition to today’s establishment; the fruit of discontent is ripe and waiting to be picked. Momentum, said Klug, does not seek simply to take hold of the anti-establishment sentiment and explode it in order to provide an anti-Conservative boon for Jeremy Corbyn. True to the values that Momentum espouse, its York members spoke about achieving a more decent and compassionate society. They campaign through peaceful protests on important matters by way of relatively docile means – leaflets, protests and Facebook events.

But I could not help but think that Momentum is not just a organisation created to reform Labour. Momentum’s members have a clear underlying political affiliations. Questions to Klug concerned the neoliberal ideology of the era, the return of socialism and the mediocrity of the mainstream political establishment. Recently Momentum urged its members to side with the striking junior doctors.

Why did Labour lose the general election of May? Klug believed that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party could not shake the perception of being a party of ‘austerity-lite’ economics, lacking the convictions to break the mould, tackle the Conservative and Liberal Democrat criticism and present themselves as a commendable party. The Conservatives, he said, also had the advantage of excellent PR.

Above all, Klug announced that Momentum is comprised of members who believe in establishing a more democratic, equal and decent society. With no grizzled, devious revolutionaries and their plotting in sight, I hope that Momentum achieves its goals.