Perceptions about its size could be greater than the reality
I’m only a few years younger than Neil Kinnock so when he tells John Pienaar on Panorama he fears that he may never see another Labour government in his lifetime it’s an “ouch” moment for me.
I regularly go in to bat for Kinnock with fans of Tony Blair, especially when they trot out the line “he won three general elections”. My argument is that Blair benefited hugely from the heavy lifting done by his predecessor in reforming the party in the 1980s. Nobody took over a party in better shape than Blair did in 1994. I worked for the Labour party under Blair and there is no denying he was a brilliant communicator and campaigner and the contrast between him and his Tory opponents was a key factor in three victories. But Labour did hemorrhage millions of votes between 1997 and 2010, most of them while Blair was leader.
Sadly, “Blairite” has become a lazy terms of abuse deployed by Momentum supporters to close down an arguments about the unelectability of Jeremy Corbyn. Watching the double whammy of Panorama and Channel Four’s Dispatches within an hour was a depressing experience for those of us who reckon electing Labour governments is a high priority.
Under cover reporting can be a gimmick but despite the predictable rubbishing by Momentum apologists, Dispatches exposures of entryism and possible breaches of the data protection laws by Momentum made it worthwhile.
The impression from both programmes was of Momentum as an unstoppable force with the potential to make life miserable for Labour MPs when selections to the redrawn constituencies take place in 2018.
But just how strong is Momentum?
The Momentum website has a map of local groups. They total fewer than a hundred. There are six in the South West and eight across the South, where there you can count the number of Labour MPs on one hand. There are roughly similar numbers in the North East (8), Yorkshire (7) East Midlands (11), West Midlands (11) where Labour MPs are much thicker on the ground.
There are 16 Momentum groups in the North West and 19 in London– double the number a few months ago. But the Evening Standard’s Pippa Crerar reports that “The founding meeting of Momentum, London East End, covering an area with up to 10,000 party members, attracted just 50 people.
“It’s largely made up of angry young women with dyed pink hair and old crusties,” said one Labour member. “I don’t think Rushanara Ali or Meg Hillier have anything to worry about with Momentum. They’re not as strong in London as some people think.” Crerar adds “The group poses a more serious threat in Haringey, Lambeth and Lewisham, where it is said to have plans to unseat moderate MPs.”
For the record I now think it will be Momentum who will be cheering in Liverpool on Saturday. Having argued for some time that Owen Smith had a chance I am worried by some recent turnout figures. As of a few days ago, just 68% of party members had voted compared to 83.5% in 2015. That should be worrying for Smith. Voting by registered supporters 82% could yet match the 2015 figure of 93% and the 42% of affiliated supporters could come close to 2015’s 48.5%.