In the video above Sacha Ismail explains why he was secretly filmed by Dispatches, the politics behind the programme — distrust of socialist ideas, and what Workers' Liberty stand for.
Channel Four's Dispatches programme (The Battle for the Labour Party, shown Monday 19 September) was a pathetic, and fairly ineffective, attempt to scandal-monger. It's argument - that Momentum is an “entryist” organisation in Labour and that Workers' Liberty is an “entryist” group within Momentum — was an attempt to throw as much mud as they could at Corbyn and Momentum, to disorganise and destabilise, now and on the other side of the Labour leadership contest which Corbyn is expected to win.
Corbyn is expected to win despite the many attempts to restrict the people eligible to vote; to exclude through suspensions and expulsions — for often unspecified infringements of unclear rules — as many Corbyn supporters as possible. The people behind Owen Smith's candidature don't like it that Corbyn is about to win. The film-makers, Films of Record, were working for those people – probably indirectly as a result of their their own natural sympathies — though Neil Grant, MD for Films of Record, has long been a right-wing member of Brent Labour Party. The film-makers did not disguise their bias, and they allowed only the most perfunctory counter-arguments to its contents.
Owen Smith recently hinted at the proscription of Momentum. He probably knows that isn't going to happen. Neil Kinnock was more forthright on camera in this programme. Kinnock probably thinks he gets interviewed because he is a “statesman”; in reality it's because he is always prepared to be obnoxious on record. In the programme Kinnock said quite clearly that as Momentum was dominated by the “sectarian ultra left”, (referring to the AWL), he regarded it as his political foe. Nice idea that Momentum is politically dominated by the AWL, but a ludicrous one.
But Kinnock is not a man who should be allowed to lecture anyone about democratic socialism; he is the man who systematically made it possible for Tony Blair to turn Labour into a one-faction party, a place where you agreed with the leadership, were there to get yourself a career or service those with careers, or you shut up and/or left. People in Momentum and much wider layers of members in Labour are trying to build a different kind of party, one where people feel free to have ideas, to debate them, to argue for a vision of a better world. Some people, including the right-wing political-media-creative people who have super-exciting careers in the BBC and Channel Four don't like that either. If they ever had any idealism they have long-since given it up, because it's just baggage that weighs you down as you climb up the greasy pole. That's how programmes like this get made.
The programme's scandalous revelations against Momentum? Apparently they are deeply involved in the campaign to get Corbyn elected, that people who supported Corbyn in the past are being rung up to ask for their continued support and Momentum has a database. And? This is absolutely not news. And it is chickenshit.
And what about us? The film showed a footage of a secretly-filmed public debate organised by Workers' Liberty in July — between Jill Mountford (Momentum Steering Committee) and John McTernan (former advisor to Tony Blair, now Daily Telegraph journalist). The reporter was filmed preparing their equipment, in a dramatic “cloak-and-dagger” section.
But this debate we organised was open to all, it had been press released to the media including Channel Four News. We filmed the entire discussion for Youtube. We wanted people to hear exactly what was said in the meeting. If anyone wished to quote any part of the meeting or take a video clip from it they did not need to use covert cameras. The secret filming was a performance — designed to conjure up the impression that the AWL are “dangerous”.
Following this piece of theatre the programme:
• Linked Jill Mountford (Steering Committee of Momentum), Mark Sandell (chair elect of Brighton District Labour Party) and Sacha Ismail (Lewisham Momentum member) with the AWL in order to give the impression of a huge AWL-led conspiracy.
• Said that Mark Sandell being asked to at Lewisham Momentum was part of this conspiracy.
• Allowed a biased speaker to negatively describe the AGM of Brighton District Labour Party (after which the party was suspended) mentioning complaints of abuse, but without asking even one person to contest that opinion on camera.
• Pointed out that the AWL is "Trotskyite" (but didn't explain what that meant).
• Implied that the AWL is leading a campaign to get rid of right-wing MPs, describing a motion passed by a meeting of Lewisham Momentum (also secretly filmed), which among other things, called for a campaign for mandatory reselection.
• Interviewed Tim Hale (author of a book about Ed Miliband) to describe mandatory re-selection as an evil because it made MPs scared.
Neither Momentum nor the AWL were asked to make a comment to camera about the general charges being made. For our part, we are wondering how a film company working for a public service broadcaster is allowed to do that.
If we had had a chance to speak we would have said, the following:
• We are Trotskyists (and that's the non-Stalinist way to say it comrades). We are revolutionary socialists. We have said this loudly and clearly for all of our fifty years of existence. We have been advocating a vote for Labour and for Labour governments for almost all of that existence. In a certain sense then we are more committed to Labour than many of our detractors.
• We always argue for our ideas through open discussion and debate. People either reject what we say or are convinced by it, and that's fine. Our members and supporters make no apologies for trying to influence policy. That is what democratic politics is about. On that last point, we are no different from members of Progress, the Fabian Society, Compass and other Labour Party groupings.
• Labour Party members who back Corbyn are not fools. No one should be surprised that Labour members, not just AWL members, want to censure, no-confidence or deselect the MPs who tried to trash an attempt to make Labour a socialist political alternative. They will want to do that irrespective of whether or not re-selection (a process which is already allowed) is made easier.
• The charge of “entryism” for both Momentum and Workers' Liberty is being use to bully and harangue Corbyn supporters – those that have not yet been suspended and expelled by Labour's machine, for unspecific offences on “social media”. There is a political operation going on here. This is the undemocratic and truly scandalous reality of “The Battle for Labour”.
• MPs who campaigned to get rid of a democratically-elected leader almost as soon as he got the keys to the Leader's Office should feel some trepidation. If they do not then many of them – not all, but many of them – will once again be campaigning this time next year, or even sooner, to get rid of Corbyn and to further intimidate and demoralise the decent, articulate, independently-minded, political people who are backing him.
We need to campaign against this witch-hunt, this is serious. And we need to very clear - all socialists that are committed to Labour, including those in its many platforms, groupings and official structures should be allowed in the party. We should not allow those people who have backed Owen Smith, people in the highly secretive “Saving Labour” campaign for instance, who are using every means at their disposal, including these film-makers, to intimidate the left.