Sir Tony Robinson on Momentum

17 Jan

Celebrities are on my mind. My previous steel city scribbling was on Gwynneth Paltrow’s keen advocacy of novel uses for coffee, mugwort tea and jade eggs. The post before that concerned celebrities less stratospheric – Jones, Mason and Monbiot – and the opposite of endorsement; rather, the traducing of all and any who question mainstream narratives on Russia and Syria.

Those two posts make clear my views. Celebrities are entitled to their opinions, as are lesser mortals to express dismay at denial of platform to counter-views. Especially when such denial by their Guardian employer goes unchallenged by Monbiot et al, and excludes those whose specialist knowledge, or close familiarity with facts on the ground, entitle them on moral and journalistic grounds to right of reply when its articles rubbish them.

Now comedian, documentary presenter and all round media star Tony Robinson – another man widely regarded, knighthood notwithstanding, as on the left or at least ‘progressive’ – is using his privileged position to denounce a Labour ‘completely taken over by Leftist clique’.

He means Momentum, the group formed within a month (October 2015) of Corbyn’s election as Labour leader. Few will need reminding of the ferocity of attack on his position from the get go, not least by liberal media, nor that Momentum’s raison d’etre is to buttress his victory and the leftward turn it signifies. Indeed Momentum represents in its own right a force as renewing and exciting as that of Corbyn himself.

So what’s Sir Tony’s gripe? Let’s be generous and assume he’s not just miffed that the recent Party wide election, to Labour’s National Executive Committee, did more than return all three of Momentum’s recommended candidates: Jon Lansman, Yasmine Dar and Rachel Garnham. By that fact it also, with only those three positions up for grabs, failed to return Robinson’s fellow celebrity, comedian Eddie Izzard. Under the ‘business as usual’ politics which have for decades turned people, young people especially, away from Labour in droves, Eddie’s fame and leftish reputation would have made him a shoo-in.

But these are not normal times for Labour. Its leader boosted by June’s general election, huge credit for that goes not just to Theresa May but the organising ability and energising capacity of a Momentum whose “takeover” Sir Tony – and of course Eddie himself, who yesterday took to the Graun to air his ‘concern’ at a ‘new’ divisiveness in the party – are so put out by. But let’s set aside any idea that these two comics have stopped laughing simply because forces channelling public anger over neoliberalism have prevailed over the ‘moderates’, with results not even the magic touch of stardom can undo.

Let’s just look instead – it won’t take long – at the Robinson-Izzard allegation that Momentum somehow represents a dark and sinister corrosion of the body politic. Really? And there’s me thinking hats off to Momentum for showing that, for now at least, its tight organisation – allied to a relatively left manifesto and leader who’s overcome every attempt to blacken his name – has proved stronger than our corrupt media and their mockery of democracy in British politics.

12 Replies to “Sir Tony Robinson on Momentum

    • Indeed. What Labour needs is a higher order body – I think Super Delegates would be a good name – to annul all and any unwise grassroot choices …

  1. The 3 NEC candidates elected each got over 60,000 votes (Eddie Izzard on 39,000 btw). I’m not sure if tens of thousands of people can fit into a ‘clique’.
    very best!

  2. Indeed.

    One issue the recent NEC vote has highlighted, which seems endemic across and symptomatic of UK society, is the poor level of engagement. 60k votes from a membership of around 600,000 represents roughly 10% of the membership. Given that members had three votes and most will have gone for one slate or the other plus a few thousand votes for ‘independents’ let’s call it a round 100,000 turnout, represents around 16%.

    Perhaps some members were concerned at putting their heads above the parapet in case they ended up getting expelled under the Mcnicoll witch hunt? Who knows. It’s not as though there were that many candidates to choose from. Back in the late 80’s when we still had workplace ballots for the Union Executives (before the enforcement of postal balloting) I recall going around with a wad of three different ballot papers: NEC with about 30+ names for I think it was around 22/23 places; one for Engineering Executive regional places and one for the Engineering Executive sectional places. Complex though it was we were always dismayed at only ever getting a branch turnout of between 30-40%.

    Postal ballots and electronic ballots have seen turn outs drop significantly whatever the ballot – pay, industrial action, mayor’s, police commissioners, NEC elections. Trivia like Strictly Come Dancing and other similar distractions seem to animate more people than issues which have a major impact on their lives.

    If this had been a General Election two of the three ‘Progress’ candidates would have lost their deposits (Edie Izzard at 6.5% , and the other two candidate receiving 4.5% & 4.2%).

    Taken together with much of what else is going on right now under the ‘taking back control’ trope it seems like living in a real life version of the film Idiocracy. Baldrick leading the charge just about sums it up.

      • You lost me on the numbers though. Didn’t the three winners all poll in the high sixties? (The similar figures for each suggesting Momentum’s success in getting out the vote for Lansman, Dar, Garnham.) That’s over 200,000. Izzard I think got just shy of 40,000, the other two trailing below 10,000. That makes a ‘turnout’ of 250,000+, no?

        Or am I missing summat? I defer to your far greater hands-on experience of grass roots union and Labour democracy.

        • Steel City,

          Turnout for the NEC Ballot was some 19% according to The New Statesman, which given the importance of the composition of the NEC, was quite low in my humble opinion. Given the Party has a membership now of approx. 600K, this means only 120K actually participated – not good given at least 400K of the membership are pro-Corbyn. I’m auto-banned from the Party, but had I a vote, I’d have used it and voted for the actual Left slate, not the Progress/Labour First Slate.

          As for Tony Robinson’s comments, purple garbage in my opinion based on the fact Momentum only has some 30K members, that’s 5% of the entire membership, which hardly constitutes a majority, nor a tiny faction.

          • Thanks Chris. Just realised my schoolboy howler: adding up all candidates’ vote counts to derive a turnout figure, when each voter chose three candidates! Duh …

  3. I thought it was a good turnout when looking a GE and referendum turnouts. – As the wags have already said, ‘the three on the Momentum Slate each polled slightly less than the total Conservative party membership.’ But NEC elections will not have animated people other than the activists and CLP officials. However, some party members will not have voted due to not being on-line. Or not understanding the process for voting. You could choose from 1 to 3 candidates, plus its not possible to spoil a ballot. So wetting my finger and holding it up in the air. I think a figure of 100,000 would be pretty close. Labour has built its membership base. 630,000 and is still rising.(Jumped by 35,000 in three weeks after GE17)

    Momentum now reports membership at 35,000 and rising at about 1000 a month. It also requires members to be Labour party members. Its success seems to come from, mobilising the real party activists quite early on, just after Corbyn’s election to leader. They hold their own conference, they have their own (keep in touch) smartphone apps and hole local group meetings outside of CLP’s. As keen activists they have collectively been reinvigorating some of the old CLP’s where the same old few had turned up for years. Some CLP’s now have as many as 400 members and many have had to change venue to accommodate increased numbers.

    Progress which has been around for years (1996) and was funded by Lord Sainsbury (Not a traditional route for ‘Labour Party Donors) for a good few years. But he has subsequently withdrawn his funding and Progress has upped the membership fees to compensate. Progress and labour first are viewed as Blairites. Especially as they hold public meetings and then invite people like Liz Kendal and Wes Streeting to speak. Paul Mason who has just had a fallout with the Guardian) went into the lions den and lectured them, at their own Conference.

    Its available on-line.

    • Mike,

      You are correct about the growth in Momentum membership, now at 35K, not so sure about 630K membership of Labour though, but cannot disagree that its membership is growing. Indeed, Labour’s actual membership numbers would be far higher if it were not for McNicol and his Stasi Unit – I’m auto-Banned for making a Tweet favourable towards the Green Party, which is fine by me given I was an actual Green Party member when I made the post – many 1000’s others have been Excluded & Banned for BS reasons, given most of us were banned for being outspoken Rightist critics and supporters of the full democratisation of the Labour Party – something Progress types used to support!

  4. Thanks to Dave, Chris and Mick for your comments. You are all more knowledgeable than I am on the grassroots currents and procedures within Britain’s labour movement and I appreciate the points you all make.

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