“When are we going to convert you?” I was frankly rather flattered to be asked that question by Laura Parker, then political secretary to Jeremy Corbyn and now national director of Momentum.
Her question was whether, in effect, I had abandoned my Corbo-scepticism following the General Election in which her boss had led Labour to a better than expected result. I pointed her to my PB verdict on that result. I said I was wrong – and right — about Jeremy: that he had been both a vote winner and a vote loser.
That judgement probably still stands. There is a Marmite quality to Corbyn that, despite the government’s multiple mishaps, helps explain why Labour and the Tories are level pegging in the polls as are Corbyn and Theresa May in the personal ratings.
That’s not to deny that Labour have been making a strong showing since the election, winning arguments, especially on the economy and public services, and votes in the Commons, all spearheaded by Corbyn’s confident performances at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Nonetheless, the successes haven’t been reflected in the polls. The party does need to do better, even if Tony Blair’s suggestion that it ought to be 15-20% ahead is, to my mind, rather fatuous. Matt Singh offers a more granular analysis of why the chaotic goings on in the Tory Cabinet are not moving the polls.
My focus here is on what role Momentum, under its new leadership, will play in boosting Labour’s fortunes.
The divisions in the Tory party highlighted by the infamous Telegraph “Mutineers” splash are both an opportunity and an awful warning for Labour. My question to comrade Parker – of whom I’m a big fan — obviously focuses on the awful warning bit.
Momentum boasts more than 30,000 members and as many as 200,000 supporters among a total Labour membership of 550,000. – more than all the other parties put together.
Wise heads at Westminster see Momentum as a hard core of ideologues plus a much larger army of idealists but who can be driven together by ham-fisted opposition by irreconcilable Corbyn opponents. They note that loyalists figure strongly among front benchers there are more than two dozen Tribune group members among them. This is a good basis for keeping Labour MPs working together.
The big worry is about Momentum’s capacity to foment debilitating divisions in local parties. The political editor of the Manchester Evening News Jennifer Williams provides an interesting case study. The city council’s business friendly economic policies – “which have regularly seen Manchester feted nationally as a northern urban success story” is being challenged by Momentum. She reports that Momentum has had very limited success in council selections but quotes one local MP talking of “a decade-long fight for the soul of the Labour party.”
Council selections are in full spate for next year’s May elections in other big cities, including the 32 London Boroughs, as well as more than 200 shire districts. My own experience in Wandsworth makes me fairly sanguine. In elections for party officers in Tooting the Momentum slate was comfortably defeated but , more significantly, party members from all sides were out campaigning the next day in a council by-election. Local eyes are set on a big prize – seizing control next of Wandsworth council which has been in Tory hands for 40 years.
Victory in a General Election is an even bigger prize and the Guardian’s Zoe Williams hits the nail on the head. She says Labour is looking more purposeful and coherent, “But what would really distinguish it, ahead of an election that cannot be far off, would be to foster an atmosphere of generosity and trust.”
I agree. I hope Laura does too.