Momentum has found itself again at the centre of disputes within the Labour Party.
It was reported last week that the left-wing pressure group is now asking future parliamentary candidates to take ‘loyalty tests’ by signing contracts agreeing to the “political objectives” of Momentum, in order to receive the group’s backing. This would essentially commit future MPs who have signed the contract to vote according to the values of Momentum and Corbyn in future Parliaments and implement all manifesto commitments.
On the surface this seems a pragmatic, perhaps even reasonable move to ensure unity within the party and secure loyalty to Corbyn’s leadership. Such a move in restricting divergence from the dominant Labour narrative could exploit the current disarray and divisions within the shambolic Tory government.
Even if this was the case though, the move remains a concerning one. Due to the growing dominance of Momentum in some areas of the country, it is increasingly difficult to achieve selection without the group’s support — meaning that MPs must either sign up to Momentum’s brand of politics, or face being shut out of the party.
As one Labour MP suggested to The Observer, the loyalty contracts signal a “Stalinist approach to politics”.
This hyperbolic language is unhelpful, as the selection process within the Labour Party does not in itself pose a problem. It is democratic and indeed acceptable that the membership should be involved in who can stand as an MP. Where the issue lies and is rightly challenged though by dissenting Labour MPs, is in the nature and implications of the loyalty tests being implemented by Momentum.
Firstly, there is a bemusing irony that a group supporting Corbyn is implementing a toe-the-line policy against MPs under his leadership. As is widely known, Corbyn voted 428 times against Labour whilst the party was in power from 1997–2010. By forcing MPs to vote based not on their own principles, but along the lines dictated by an influential and increasingly powerful pressure group, Momentum is undermining Corbyn’s legacy as an independent and free-thinking member of Parliament.
The imposition of contracts is both inconsistent with Corbyn’s values, but also undermines the very traits which made him so appealing to Labour members —his conscience-oriented voting and his integrity in doing so.
Secondly, Momentum’s drive for loyalty is at odds with Labour’s tradition as a broad church party. The refusal to allow MPs seeking election to diverge from the group’s views, appears as an almost Orwellian imposition of ‘groupthink’. Labour MPs must either abandon their principles and align with Momentum, or risk being shut out.
Corbyn of course needs the support of the PLP, but this should not be enforced through Momentum imposed contracts. Labour needs to promote cooperation and convince those in the party that Corbyn’s world-view is one worth pursuing, not assert an authoritarian demand for ‘loyalty’.
Finally, Momentum’s attempts to impose voting habits onto Labour would-be MPs, is an affront not to just the pluralistic tradition within the Labour Party, but also a threat to British democracy in a wider-sense.
Members of Parliament have a duty in the House of Commons to think independently and vote — as Corbyn has done for decades — based on their conscience.
Their job is not, as the loyalty contracts would surely dictate, to turn up and regurgitate the views of Momentum. MPs are expected to vote according to the interests of their electorate, to whom they are accountable, not according to the interests of a pressure group. It is obviously not unfair to expect that MPs should vote through Labour’s next manifesto, but the signing of loyalty contracts essentially undermines the independence of elected members of Parliament.
It should of course be recognised that Momentum’s work during the election was remarkable and deserves the praise it received in helping to mobilise the vote and recover the initially thought irrecoverable gap in the polls prior to the election. But the group’s performance does not give it the right to split Labour and strengthen factionalism, deterring any on the right of the party from seeking election.
Nor is it appropriate that Momentum should dictate to MPs how to vote. That is the matter for elected representatives not pressure groups.
Momentum may be part of the Labour Party, but the Labour Party is not Momentum. Its members should realise this, and acknowledge that they have no right to monopolise the values within an intellectually diverse party.