Momentum has been organising up and down the country for the key elections today, getting activists out on the doorstep, running phone banks and organising public events on local issues and the elections.
Momentum is about harnessing the energy of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign and channelling it into community and the Labour Party. Local groups are exploring new ways of engaging and educating people in their communities, specifically those who are not currently being engaged. Across the country Momentum activists have been harnessing this energy from phone banks in Brent and Euston to campaigning days in key marginal seats such as Rotherham.
Momentum in London has been rallying people for campaigning with our #JezWeKhan socials. Teaming up with the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association and Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation we have held after-campaigning socials with guest speakers such as Owen Jones and Clive Lewis MP. Momentum knows that campaigning is great fun but in certain areas can be tough and therefore we have tried to provide the support system to keeping our activists motivated especially those new members who haven’t been involved in an election campaign before.
For some Momentum activists, the 2016 local elections have represented their first taste of canvassing, taking Labour’s clear message to voters’ doorsteps. Momentum has supported Labour by getting new members involved. Momentum has brought young and new members to the Labour doorstep, with Momentum groups such as Momentum Hackney having a working with Labour group, organising education on the workings of the local CLPs so new members and activists have the confidence and understanding to get involved. Momentum Hackney have been meeting new campaigners for a coffee and cake before canvassing sessions and pairing up more experienced activists with new people to get out on the doorstep. Getting new members out on the doorstep this May has allowed Momentum to encourage and direct people to the Labour Party who were not previously involved, giving them an education in wards and CLPs.
We have had groups travelling to target councils, for example the Brighton and Hove group who have been going to Crawley and Hastings to canvass while the Sheffield group has visited Rotherham three times as well as supporting Gill Furniss’s campaign to win the Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough by-election. Meanwhile in Plymouth our Momentum group has been canvassing for the local elections since mid-January and launched the fantastic Six O’Clock Squad which has been out every evening in the marginal wards of Eggbuckland and Budshead. In some constituencies, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has led to massive increases in the numbers of local activists, increasing the possibilities for planning both electoral and non-electoral strategies in the following years.
Momentum activists joining the Labour Party on the doorstep have had predictably varied responses. In Sutton and Cheam Labour and Momentum activist Vic notes that voters have ceased to claim that Labour is “just the same” as the Tories, widening the scope for political debate. While some voters have expressed concerns about the direction of the new party, other former Liberal Democrat voters are moving towards Labour and are likely to vote for Sadiq Khan.
Crucially, with a new influx of Labour and Momentum activists, Sutton and Cheam CLP have been able strategically plan to canvass in target wards regularly over the coming two years in the run-up to the 2018 elections. Canvassing is of course hard work, but also immensely fulfilling. In Rotherham, Momentum activist Dave says that “The moment when you are chatting with someone on their doorstep and they have returned to our fold makes it all worthwhile. Having to abandon a session in late April because of snow was pretty unusual too.”
Meanwhile, in Plymouth, Momentum activist Terry has said that the Momentum local elections campaign has been a fantastic experience for the local group. Experienced of canvassing have also led to discussions about where Momentum’s energies are best focused. For example, Max, a Momentum activist in Sheffield, says that while canvassing for local elections focuses on getting out the Labour vote to win elections, he would like to see Momentum helping Labour to reach people who have switched off from politics and from socialist ideas in particular.
In many places, people express views which do not clearly fit in with the narrative of any swathe of thinking within the party. The experience of canvassing hits home what most of us in the Labour Party should already know, but need periodic reminding: that too many people are uninterested in politics, too many are disengaged from the political process, and too many have no intention of voting in the upcoming local elections.
Even the most heated arguments going on in the Labour Party pass vast swathes of the population by. Regardless of the extent of short-term electoral gains of mobilising non-voters, no progressive party can be happy with a situation where well over half of the population decides it isn’t worth voting. Low democratic participation goes hand in hand with inequality and injustice, because it makes it encourages narrow political strategies and approaches and makes it easier for elites to dominate decision-making processes. Being on the doorstep has highlighted the importance of organising and engaging local communities which feel so distant from the political system and Momentum activists want to play a key role in this.
Whatever the outcomes on Thursday, Momentum will be organising in the next few years to support both electoral and non-electoral campaigns to advance progressive causes, because we believe that transformation of society cannot be achieved by just one route alone. Canvassing effectively requires not just effort and co-ordination but also confidence to speak to large numbers of unfamiliar people and engaging them on potentially sensitive political issues and Momentum has a massive role to play in bringing activists into the Labour Party and empowering them to fight for change.