The polemics of political groups pose a problem for Jeremy Corbyn. A successful stand is necessary.
It is normally the House of Commons that is criticised for its rowdy debates, which are more reminiscent of playground brawls than the actions of elected officials. But the recent debate regarding airstrikes in Syria has turned the tables, and the focus is on grassroots groups such as Momentum, for actions that make the House of Commons look like the height of civilisation.
Formed from the group “Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader”, which was a driving force in Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign, Momentum is one of many political organisations that have sprung up in recent years to bring about change. With an emphasis on anti-austerity, Momentum numbers 60,000 members and presents itself as a group independent of the Labour Party. However, it has become a group of growing influence when it comes to the party’s internal views, pushing forward ideas that the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party disagree with. These views have left concerns in many of their minds; fears of hard-left “entryism”, deselection and steering Labour into the electoral wilderness – to name but a few.
However, the most pressing issue is the idea of accountability. If a group has been so central in the rise of a Labour leader (and increasing support from members), there needs to be a spotlight on the actions of said group. Whilst the debate on airstrikes in Syria was one of the most intensive and perhaps respectful in many years, when 66 Labour MPs chose to vote with the government, a backlash followed from groups aligning themselves with Corbyn such as Momentum. Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, received abuse to such an extent that she had to leave the debate to deal with threats towards her staff in her constituency office.
Momentum is formed on the idea that they have principles which most politicians fail to replicate and represent – as a part of the “newer, kinder politics” Mr Corbyn’s appointment was supposed to bring in. The sincere passion for justice on peaceful, anti-war issues has been enhanced by Corbyn, but situations like this are an unacceptable kind of protest – opposing everything sensible in politics and dragging down the party itself. We cannot have actions which go so far as to silence debate – Ms Creasy’s brief exit from the debate to deal with threats undermines the nature of constructive discussion.
This situation cannot happen again; Mr Corbyn must reconsider his involvement with such groups, and ask whether they are the future of the Labour Party. The PLP represents the views of whomever votes for the Labour Party, and whilst members are just as important, he cannot allow small, vocal minorities to dominate the debate.
However, all groups of a similar nature, especially in a country with a voting system where minor parties such as Ukip and the Green Party are having a larger role to play, must be considered here. Groups like Momentum are not political parties – but in a system where conventional politics no longer appeals, they are becoming an alternative means of expression. Momentum’s 60,000 members rivals that of parties such as the Greens – and many organisations and pressure groups have members many times that.
There is no doubt that the Labour Party has a formidable task ahead in the next few years to ensure a victory in 2020. Modernisation is certainly key, and new tactics must be established so that constituents have their voices heard. Ultimately though, in Westminster First Past the Post system, it is the MPs that have the voice, not groups like Momentum, which are becoming glorified pressure groups as they believe parties won’t listen.
It is partly the responsibility of the Labour Party itself to show that it is open to new ideas – but left-wing groups that invite opinion from all parts of the left (revolutionary and problematic in the extreme) are being ushered in. If Mr Corbyn is truly aiming to fight for a practical, radical Labour Party, he must assure people that damaging activism will not be part of it.