The campaign group tapped into some popular issues
Momentum never had much affinity for the Labour Party. Created as the successor organisation to the grassroots campaign that propelled Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership in 2015, many of its leading lights and foot soldiers had spent much of their political lives attacking Labour relentlessly and, in some cases, actively working against the party.
Often they were well-trodden members or fellow travellers of far-Left grouplets, such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, and were used to articulating their ideas to small audiences of like-minded activists during evening meetings in draughty council buildings or university lecture rooms.
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But, with the Corbyn ascendancy, these fringe voices saw an opportunity to plant their flag firmly in the mainstream. It just so happened that the party they had long regarded as the betrayer of the working-class suddenly became the vehicle by which they might advance their plans to deliver that class’s emancipation. Such is the reality of entryist politics.
So should those of us who are longstanding Labour members and critics of these revolutionaries shed any tears at reports that Momentum faces a funding crisis that might lead to its departure from the scene?
Well, yes and no. The organisation is certainly stuffed with the type of people — student radicals, evangelical social activists and middle-class graduates — who have helped to drive the schism between the Labour Party and its once-loyal voters in working-class constituencies. Many of these electors regard Momentum types, rightly or wrongly, as, at best, a bit crankish and, at worst, anti-British and dangerous. Demanding, for example, that the leadership take action against Rosie Duffield on account of her stated belief that Eddie Izzard is not a woman is bound to place the organisation beyond moderate, mainstream opinion.
That said, it is undeniable that Momentum activists brought energy, enthusiasm and a platform of ideas to a party that had become ideologically and functionally sclerotic. For all its faults, Momentum injected some fresh thinking. This was especially the case on economic policy, on which Labour had, in previous years, locked itself into an intellectual straitjacket, peddling an uninspiring programme that could at best be described as “austerity-lite” and which conceded far too much ground to the opinions of bankers and technocrats.
The Labour Party might not wish to say it out loud, but elements of Corbynomics — for example, higher taxes on the rich, nationalisation, and opposition to public spending cuts — were rather popular with the masses. In fact, it was arguably only on economic policy that Corbyn’s Labour resonated in any significant way with voters. Credit where it is due, the Corbyn leadership was bold in saying that the current economic model was broken and that something entirely new was needed. And, for the most part, it wasn’t afraid to take on vested interests when making that case. That was the right approach then, as it is now, and Momentum played a role in it.
So while the so-called moderates in Labour ranks could be forgiven for not bemoaning Momentum’s potential demise, they should be careful to ensure the baby isn’t thrown out with the bathwater. Dump the woke nonsense that accompanied the organisation, for sure. But bottle some of the spirit, energy and economic radicalism. There may even be some votes in it.