Camden Momentum’s rebuke to national re smear response: “with every scalp taken, a new target will soon loom into view”

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A Camden Momentum banner

At the beginning of this month, the SKWAWKBOX strongly criticised the decision of the officer group of Momentum’s NCG (National Coordinating Group) to withdraw support from National Executive Committee (NEC) candidate Peter Willsman over misrepresented comments Willsman had made during an NEC meeting, calling the decision ‘idiotic and reckless’. Local Momentum groups in other areas made their own criticisms.

But that criticism pales compared to an open letter sent by Camden Momentum to the NCG issuing a withering rebuke regarding its ‘cowardly’ reaction to the attacks on the party and its leadership.

And pointing out what observant Labour members have been shouting for so long: giving a millimetre to the critics gains nothing – “with every scalp that is taken, a new target will soon loom into view”.

To the National Coordinating Group of Momentum,

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our severe dismay and disappointment at the National Coordinating Group’s latest farcical attempt to alienate the bulk of Momentum’s membership. Your decision to withdraw support for the NEC candidature of Pete Willsman, which has now been widely reported on new left media platforms, such as Skwawkbox and the Jewish Voice for Labour blog, is not only short-sighted, inept and ‘idiotic’; it is also cowardly [1].

It represents a craven betrayal of Willsman, whose long years of service to the movement should not have been cast aside so crassly. Had you acted with deliberation, rather than such unseemly haste in the face of the latest iteration of the smear campaign, you would have realised that there is, in fact, no valid reason to withdraw support for Willsman [2]. If, on the other hand, your intention was to further widen the chasm between Momentum’s leadership and its membership, then you have succeeded with merit.    

As members of Camden Momentum, we have felt it necessary to communicate to the NCG – our supposed national ‘leadership’ (although we use that word very lightly in this case) – the views of local members. With regard to this latest NCG vote, we have heard nothing but disdain and derision, and we hope that it will be reversed at the earliest possible opportunity. Several members have considered cancelling their membership, and some have already done so. This is but the latest in a long line of cowardly betrayals, and it vindicates a view that has been widely expressed on the left: if Momentum’s leadership is not prepared to stand up to the ongoing witch-hunt, it will simply create the conditions for further attacks and smears.

That scenario is now playing itself out like a train crash in slow motion, but you cannot say you were not warned. The NCG must by now have begun to realise that with every scalp that is taken, a new target will soon loom into view. This time it is Pete Willsman’s turn, and it just so happens to coincide – strange coincidence! – with the period of the Labour Party’s NEC elections. The ultimate target is Corbyn himself, as is clear from the increasingly shrill and desperate attempts to tarnish him with the absurd and demonstrably false charge of antisemitism (an insinuation which dates back to his very first leadership campaign).

You have led large numbers of people to believe that Momentum’s main purpose is to defend Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, and, to do that, you need to fight on all fronts, which includes the detailed and patient rebuttal of malicious and mendacious smears. If the NCG is unable to do that, for whatever reason, you should resign your positions of political leadership and make way for people who can.

There were, at least, some promising signs that you are beginning to recognise your own failings in the decision to allow Barnaby Raine to defend the party’s position on Channel 4 [3]. He did a far better job than Jon Lansman, who had appeared on the same programme several days earlier. So more of this, please. If, on the other hand, the NCG is not, in fact, particularly concerned to defend Corbyn’s project to transform and democratise both the Labour party and British society then you should make that clear at the first available opportunity, if only to dispel the painful illusions that currently exist amongst many of your members.

It is, perhaps, not too late for you to reverse the already considerable damage which you have inflicted on Momentum’s credibility as ‘a people-powered, grassroots movement working to transform Britain in the interests of the many, not the few’ [4]

To do so, you would need to start seriously pushing back against the ‘alliance between disgruntled right-wing Blairites and pro-Israel activists to discredit and destabilise the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn […] the only leader […] who has always had a principled position in defence of Palestinian rights’ (those are the words of Professor Avi Shlaim) [5]. That you have so far singularly failed to do this is perhaps due to a mixture of tactical prudence, bred of long years in the wilderness of the Labour ‘left’ (when there was no such thing), and a mistaken belief that Labour’s so-called ‘broad church’ will mean that your political enemies on the right will give you an easy ride if only you find the right kind of compromise.

Given your tactical prudence is now beginning to smack of a very real kind of recklessness, it is high time that you convene an urgent meeting to change course. The good will of your membership is not infinite and inexhaustible, and you have tested our patience quite enough already. If you do so any further, you will jeopardise something far wider and more significant than your own trifling positions of political authority.

The British left is currently faced with a unique and historically unprecedented opportunity to transform the lives of millions of people for the better. Your continued refusal to defend the interests of the movement and its members places that project in jeopardy. We cannot afford to allow this first chance in half a century to slip away.

In summary: we ask that a full meeting of the NCG reconvene to overturn the decision to withdraw support from Pete Willsman, and that the Momentum leadership start playing a full role in rebutting the malicious smear campaign against the Labour party’s membership in general, and its leadership in particular.

(List of signatories redacted)

[1] <https://skwawkbox.org/2018/08/01/momentum-withdrawal-of-willsman-support-is-idiotic-reckless-and-must-be-reversed/>; <https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/blog/jvl-says-vote-for-the-full-jc9/>.
[2] <https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/blog/misquoted-and-misrepresented-necs-pete-willsman/>
[3] <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yzSOyqI4Yw>
[4]
[5]

Momentum needs to take this rebuke on board if it is to remain relevant to its own and Labour members – and the lesson of this hard-hitting letter is one that some in Labour must also learn.

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