www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk     Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Acopy Critical-Times-sos2-960-finished copy - Copy - Copy

Momentum – the untold Part 2, (January 2016 – March 2017)

In part two of this article HOT’s, Sean O’Shea describes the evolution of the Hastings’ Momentum group. Read part one of this article here: Momentum – the untold Part 1.

 

Hastings’ Momentum – a retrospect (January 2016 – March 2017)

Introduction

Contrasting definitions of democracy have been a key feature of the battle between different factions in Momentum – already sketched. So that readers can understand, and make their own judgement of the version of democracy embodied in the Momentum Constitution, I’ve included a link for the document at the end of this article.

***

I joined the local Momentum group early in 2016 and have fond memories of one of our early meetings at Christchurch, St Leonards-on-Sea. The group comprised people who were members of existing political parties and those who were members of none. Some were Green supporters, one young man I spoke to described himself as an anarcho-syndicalist and there were a few members of the SWP and Hastings Solidarity. There were also a goodly number of returnees i.e. people who had left the Labour Party in disillusionment during the Blair years, and now had their political hopes re-kindled by Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader.

I recall the sense of excitement and anticipation at being part of a broad left alliance developed to promote a new inclusive, pluralistic, bottom up style of politics based on participatory democracy through self-activating local groups & branches. The place was fizzing with ideas as people shared their political journeys and hopes for the future.

Sadly this atmosphere was not to last, and I associated some of this change with a series of external and procedural circumstances.

It was decided that future meetings would be held at the Isabel Blackman Centre, Old Town Hastings. This was the venue normally used by the East Hastings Branch of the Labour Party for their monthly meetings. Sitting in a Day Centre for the elderly in the company of caged birds, seemed an incongruous and somewhat ominous environment for this hopeful, newly formed fraternity to meet. Furthermore it had the psychological effect of blurring the distinction between these two ostensibly different groups.

With this move the format for the meetings also changed, with pre-arranged ‘celebrity’ guest speakers becoming the main item on the agenda. These ‘guests’ had interesting things to say, but a possibly unintended consequence of this was that the time for getting to know one’s immediate comrades and getting stuck into political debate and action planning was curtailed.

Then, somewhat mysteriously, and to the bewilderment of some members, it was announced that the first half hour of ‘our’ Momentum meeting would be devoted to Labour Party business, and that only Labour Party members could attend this section.

With shame and embarrassment I witnessed the sorry spectacle of some Green Party friends being refused access because they had arrived ‘too early’ and being asked to wait outside in the cold until the Labour Party business was concluded. Then, unsurprisingly the message went round, whether intended or not, that members of ‘other parties’ were not really welcome at Momentum meetings anymore.

This odd sequence of events makes some sense when one takes into account Lansman’s coup (See note (1) below), amongst the aims of which was to ensure that Momentum affiliated to the Labour Party, and that all Momentum members would be required to join the Labour Party.

The Hastings Momentum group appeared, from its inception, to be controlled by Labour Party personnel, who also controlled the membership database and, as Lansman demonstrated, those who control the database control the group.

As there was little acknowledgement or discussion of the political drama going on in London, or any expressed local objection to the coup, the above sequence of events seemed to indicate that Lansman’s intended process of assimilation was already well advanced in Hastings.

With the advent of the local elections and the subsequent national election there were no further Momentum meetings, though I did get notification of a ‘pub quiz’ and of a training session in Bernie Sanders style canvassing techniques. Not being interested in pub quizzes, and unable to canvass owing to health problems, I decided to give these events a miss.

Reflection – databases & creative leadership

Databases and social media in general can be used for controlling/exploitative or enabling purposes. Therefore when joining a social network, group or organisation, including those that purport to be left wing, it’s worth considering six questions, which the late Tony Benn advised us to always keep in the forefront of our minds:

  1. Who controls/administers/owns it?
  2. What power have they got?
  3. Where did they get it from?
  4. In whose interests do they exercise it?
  5. To whom are they accountable?
  6. How might you recall or get rid of them?

For example, consider Facebook, which now has two billion users, many of whom are members of the left. Mark Zuckerberg is its co-founder and CEO. Though he goes on about ‘empowering people’, he isn’t in fact a philanthropist disinterestedly providing a social networking service for the benefit of humanity. The primary purpose of Facebook is to make money for himself and other stakeholders, and he is currently estimated as being worth $28.4 billion. He makes this money by using the information which members voluntarily supply to him.

Facebook’s abuses from cyber bullying, trolling, the dissemination of fake news and the selling of information provided in confidence, has not diminished its popularity. Indeed many comrades in Momentum appear to be surprisingly sanguine about the control and intensive exploitation of their personal information by a few billionaires, and see no contradiction at all in lining the pockets of Mr Z by their continuing use and support of this unabashedly capitalist platform.

To develop a self-activating group or social network, all that members would need to do is consent to sharing a basic level of information directly with each other, without mediation by profiteers or other agents, whose interests may include the furtherance of their own power, control and status. The required information would need to be no more than what is relevant for the pursuance of the agreed objectives of the group, and be provided on a voluntary basis. It might include for example:

  1. Name and contact details
  2. Brief background
  3. Skills and experiences you are willing to share with others
  4. Projects, activities and campaigns in which you are interested

Within these parameters confidentiality of personal information would of course need to be respected, and those failing to comply with this principle could forfeit their membership of the group.

The Data Protection Act is often cited as a potential obstacle to the above proposal, but there is no law that says people can’t voluntarily share such basic information with each other.

Paradoxically this concern has sometimes been expressed to me by the same comrades who are regular and uncritical users of Facebook, which intensively exploits their personal information by, for example, collating their likes and dislikes, and compiling detailed psychographic profiles of them for commercial exploitation.

GroupCreative leadership

The emergent pattern of leadership which I observed during my period of involvement in the local Hastings’ Momentum group is illustrated in Figure 1. A strength of this model is that it provides structure and gets things done. A deficit however is that power and control is centralised, i.e. remains in the hands of the few not the many.

In February 2017, at one of the final Momentum meetings prior to the local elections, I suggested that consideration be given to the implementation of an alternative self-activating, more group-centred model on the lines just described and illustrated in Fig 2. This entails a dialogical, participatory and more horizontal form of communication than Fig 1, and requires a facilitative style of leadership.

I argued that the advantages of the approach were that it was more democratic, would liberate access to persons and resources, facilitate mutual support and solidarity and encourage the sharing of skills, knowledge and experiences. It would also enable members to link up and collaborate with each other on their own initiative, without having to defer all ongoing activity until centrally approved, or until a more formal general meeting was convened. This was a moot point as it was anticipated that there could be no further formal meetings convened until after the council elections i.e. for several weeks or more.

These ideas were positively received with a show of some hands in their favour. I subsequently submitted my suggestions in a formal written proposal to key Hastings’ Momentum personnel. As I got no response I can’t confirm if this proposal was ever read or considered.

Postscript – the least one can do

Sometime afterwards I met an old comrade at the bus stop, and after talking a while about the sorry state of the ‘new politics,’ he said:

“You know I’m still a paid up member of the Labour Party. I’m also a member of Momentum, though I don’t know the difference anymore. Both organisations keep pestering me for money – as if I haven’t paid them enough already!”

After a pensive pause he continued:

“As to where the money goes, well it’s to help us win the next election presumably, but it would be nice to know some details. When contacted by ‘no reply@peoplesmomentum.com’ I vote as I’m directed. Is this e-democracy?   I remain loyal to the cause. That’s to say, I put my cross in the right place, and click as required on my computer. It’s the least I can do.”

Then, with an ironic smile on his face, he bade me farewell saying:

“Peace & socialism, my friend and good luck on your journey.”

Some comrades have decided not to make any further donations to Momentum until they know where the money is going. Others query why two apparently separate organisations, which share a common membership and seems to share a common purpose, should still be collecting money – separately.

Given the increasing demands for donations now emanating from both organisations, the implementation of a degree of transparency by making an open and detailed record of their finances available to all of their members would be a welcome, respectful, informative and timely gesture of ‘democratic’ accountability.

Finally, on the issue of finance, it struck me that a valuable use of some of the donations made to Momentum would be to fund an alternative, not-for-profit, member-led People’s Facebook (or suitable, legally permissible synonym!). This might prove popular amongst members who are still unwittingly enhancing Mr. Z’s bank balance.

Any readers who may wish to liven things up at their local branch might consider putting the above ideas forward as motions for debate. Remember however that you will have to persuade some comrade to second them, and you will also have to ensure that you provide two weeks’ notice when submitting them for ‘consideration’ by your branch secretary.

If you manage to get through that process, and have your motions accepted for debate, I wish you the best of luck!

If you want to put your proposals to Momentum however, according to their current constitution, you will need the support of one thousand other members (or the equivalent of 5% of the membership, whichever number is smallest) in order for the National Co-ordinating Group (NCG) to consider it. The NCG may then choose to put the proposal to an OMOV vote, or simply reject it! Easy-peasy or what?

See Momentum’s Constitution, Section 10, Direct Democracy, subsection 10.2 at: www.labourlist.org/2017/01/momentum-constitution-read-it-in-full

Note (1)

Jon Lansman, British Labour Party Activist and founder of Momentum, who instigated a coup in January 2017 changing the constitutional basis of the organisation. See previous article: www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk/sos/momentum-the-untold-january-2016-march-2017

 

SOS

 

 

 

 

Posted 07:15 Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017 In: SOS

Also in: SOS

«
»
  • Join our mailing list

  • HOT Social