Labour leadership: Momentum faces backlash over ‘ludicrous’ ballot of members

Ashley Cowburn
Bloomberg/Getty

The left-wing group Momentum is facing a backlash over its “ludicrous” ballot of members for the Labour leadership, with just one option for both leader and deputy leader roles available to supporters.

It comes after the contest to succeed Jeremy Corbyn was narrowed down to five candidates, including Rebecca Long-Bailey, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips and the current frontrunner, Sir Keir Starmer.

Momentum – an organisation that grew out of Mr Corbyn’s first leadership campaign in 2015 to support his radical policy agenda – sent out correspondence to its 40,000 strong membership on Tuesday asking them to vote in a “confirmatory ballot”.

The group’s National Coordinating Group (NCG) unanimously voted at the weekend to support Ms Long-Bailey, the left-wing shadow business secretary, for Labour leader, and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner for the deputy position.

It was also decided to put the decision by the executive to a vote of all members, but supporters of Momentum have criticised the ballot that does not mention any of the other Labour leadership contenders.

The ballot simply asks members for a “yes” or “no” response to the question “should Momentum follow the NCG recommendation to endorse Rebecca Long-Bailey as the next leader of the Labour Party”. The same question is also asked of Ms Rayner for the deputy role.

Michael Chessum, a Momentum member, who was on the steering committee of the group between 2016 and 2017, said: “Ludicrously, we only have one option for each position. This is a joke, and you should vote No on principle. Even if, like me, you might end up voting for one of the chosen candidates.”

He told The Independent: “This entire situation is tragic and tell you a lot about what has happened to Corbynism. In 2015, we promised ‘a new kind of politics’ and to democratise the party, and Momentum was set up as a grassroots activist organisation.

“But a strategy of command and control took over in the leader’s office, open selections was blocked, and Momentum had its internal democracy abolished in order to become a top-down mobilising vehicle. If we, the left, are not the guardians of democracy, we will deserve to lose.”

The journalist and Labour activist Owen Jones also criticised the process. “Momentum’s ruling body went for the worst of all worlds. They should have either said, look this is a representative democracy, you’ve elected to exercise our judgement, and accordingly we back Rebecca Long-Bailey and Angela Rayner," he said.

“Or they should have let the membership have a free vote on who to back. Momentum have done incredible work as an organisation but this just looks silly and is therefore self-defeating.”

Paul Mason, a vocal supporter of the Labour left, who has said he will be supporting Sir Keir, posted on his Twitter account that he would be voting "no" in the organisation’s “ludicrous fake consultation”.

“Is anyone interested in standing for the National Co-ordinating Group, long overdue for re-election, so we can democratise things?” he added.

Another member of the organisation and academic researcher, Luke Cooper, said: “It’s a real farce. It undermines the candidates favoured by the leadership – they need the legitimacy of a democratic process.

“No one believes Rebecca Long-Bailey would not win the democratic backing of the membership but it seems anything other than North Korean levels of grassroots support was deemed unacceptable by the leadership”.

When the organisation announced at the weekend it was endorsing the candidates at an executive level, Laura Parker, the group’s former national coordinator, who quit just after the general election, said: “Although I am pleased Momentum’s governing body accepted the principle of balloting its members on the leadership, I’m sorry they seem to have decided in advance what the answer is.”

She added: “Members should be able to choose from all leader and deputy candidates.”

Momentum said they made the recommendation for Ms Long-Bailey on the basis “she is the only candidate committed to advancing the transformative agenda established by Jeremy Corbyn and furthering democratisation of the party”.

The group added: “The NCG also voted to support Angela Rayner for the next deputy leader of the Labour Party. They believe she is the strongest candidate to work with Rebecca to help build a winning coalition within the Labour Party and wider society”.

The ballot will run until midday on Thursday and if either question receives a “yes” vote from more than 50 per cent of those who cast a ballot, it “will pass and be adopted with immediate effect”, the group added.

It will undoubtedly be a considerably boost for the candidate that eventually receives Momentum’s backing, given the group’s database of activists and experience of campaigning in Labour leadership contests and two general elections.

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