It’s time for a new generation. Why I’m not standing in Momentum’s elections

Jon Lansman

Though we are still recovering from a heart-breaking election defeat, adjusting to the new leadership, plus facing serious risks to our society from the Covid-19 crisis, we are nevertheless entering a new era for socialist politics and activism in Britain. 

In 2015, we were few in the Labour Party. Today we are many. We are all five years older. We may be tired, with our spirits low in the face of defeat and lockdown, but there is real cause amongst us for hope and confidence.

Thanks to the hundreds of thousands of socialists who transformed Labour into a people-powered mass movement, the party was brought back to its roots. In 2017, with an incredibly popular socialist manifesto, we achieved the biggest swing to Labour since 1945. Promising to restore public ownership and end austerity, we came within just 2,500 votes across a handful of constituencies from forming a government. 

Thanks to our movement, Labour can never again be the party of illegal invasions, anti-immigration mugs or support for Tory policies of austerity and privatisation. The Labour Party is now much closer to being a socialist party than simply a party with socialists in it. There is no doubt that it is the right place for all democratic socialists to be. Labour is the only major party serious about ending all inequalities, including those based on class.

We knew when we embarked on Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the Labour leadership five years ago that there was no easy path to build both an economy in the interests of the many and a society that chooses its own future.

That is why, from the beginning of that campaign, I planned to harness the support shown for this vision to build what became Momentum – a lasting movement for socialism within the Labour Party, which could continue to grow and thrive as a campaign for socialist policies for generations to come. 

The young people who were inspired to get involved brought a new culture, new ideas and new approaches. I am grateful to have learnt much from them. I hope I have helped build the confidence of many of them and am pleased to have provided new opportunities through Momentum.

We are now a mass of dedicated activists fighting for a better world. And in this new era, it is time that a new generation of leaders put their ideas into practice. That is why I have decided not to contest the forthcoming elections within Momentum and instead will hand over to a new leadership.

I am enormously proud of what Momentum has achieved. Some of our biggest achievements include:

  • Our immediate mobilisation to oppose the coup against Jeremy Corbyn in 2016.
  • The support we gave to party activists who challenged the exclusion of 130,000 party members from voting in the subsequent leadership election in the High Court.
  • The campaign we waged to win that leadership election by an even bigger margin than the one before.
  • Our digital tools directing tens of thousands to the key seats across the country that we needed to win (and in many cases actually gained). We did this, according to the leaked report, at the same time as the party’s most senior staff tried to mis-direct funding and resources through a secret factional operation to their favoured candidates in safe seats.
  • Our fantastic social media operation, working to produce persuasive, viral videos which reached many millions of voters in two general elections.
  • Our success in giving Labour members more say in party decisions than ever before in its history – stronger representation for CLPs on Labour’s national executive and greater accountability of elected representatives. Whilst celebrating this, I am deeply sorry that we were prevented from making further progress with open selections and in democratising policy-making.
  • Our success in getting some fantastic new, socialist candidates selected and elected, tripling the size of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs and reinvigorating many council Labour groups.

Until my successors are elected, I will continue all my duties as current chair with the same commitment that I have always shown. Thereafter, I shall stay around to support my successors in Momentum. I shall continue to speak out, even when some would rather I didn’t. Freed from the responsibilities of the chair of Momentum, I shall return to blogging and focusing my attentions on Labour’s national executive committee (NEC).

We desperately need better governance in our party, as the leaked report has further demonstrated. Members need justice for sabotage, misuse of funds, plus racist, sexist, ableist and frankly McCarthyite attitudes. But we must also make sure that the party’s machinery never again returns to those days of anti-democratic stitch-ups, factional warfare, and toxic culture.

The NEC is not fit for purpose. Well documented by Lewis Minkin in his detailed study of The Blair Supremacy, the NEC was stripped of its powers under “New Labour”. We need an NEC that can perform its constitutional duty to provide the scrutiny and oversight required in an organisation with over half a million members and an eight-figure turnover.

We didn’t succeed in democratising the party sufficiently while Jeremy was leader, but we must not give up now. It’s now more important than ever that Labour becomes a grassroots member-led movement.

Despite huge achievements, the last five years have been testing. Building and maintaining a large organisation, navigating conflicting pressures from every side, is not easy. Neither is operating against a backdrop of warring factions, abuse and hatred. That has a cumulative and corrosive impact, and I won’t miss that.

Of course, I have made mistakes and I have some regrets. But I am eternally grateful for the support of my comrades, family and friends (many of whom are outside politics or do not even share my politics) – they have sustained me.

So, finally, after working seven days a week for the better part of five years, I will be spending more time with my family, who have also suffered from my role. I’ve seen far too little of my three children and my four grandchildren, the youngest of whom is just three weeks old.

The struggle for an equal, environmentally sustainable world continues. By keeping up the momentum, building on the great strides made in the last five years, I have every faith that the next generation will succeed where we have not yet done so.

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