Some lessons can be learnt from the press “exposés” about the Labour left and Momentum during the Labour leadership campaign.
First, it is worth restating, the press is not interested in representing the views of the left fairly. The media are not just gunning for the Trotskyists, they have the whole left in their targets. Many Momentum activists have rightly expressed frustration and exasperation at the press’s treatment of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left. Sometimes the clamour for fair treatment by the press comes from a position of forgivable naivety. Many are new to the left and have not been through past experiences that have taught others about the role of the press. Nonetheless it should come as no surprise to us that the press attempts to demonise the movement that has grown up around Corbyn.
Ours is a movement that the ruling class does not want to develop; the press is a way for the establishment to maintain their power. Given the reality of the press, the left should be bold. It is simply not worth the trouble of trying to water down our politics or skate around an issue to appear media-friendly.
Problems in our movement should be dealt with politically and as openly as possible. Sweeping bad ideas held by individuals on the left under the carpet — such as sexism, or left anti-semitism — will only make problems looks worse when these views inevitably come to light. But there is a worrying trend in Momentum towards to look “presentable” and “reasonable”.
Obviously we should not be unnecessarily unreasonable, rude or incomprehensible. But in some ways we are unreasonable. We want to completely upset the status quo. We should not comply to the press and establishment’s idea of what is reasonable on a whole host of issues.
For instance, on mandatory reselection. Momentum have been hesitant on that (and occasional outright dismissive). Instead of being cowed we should be clear and bold — reselection of Labour MPs by their local parties should be a democratic norm. MPs are delegates of our movement not a professional elite, and they should want to be held to account. In fact a vast majority of Momentum activists support mandatory reselection.
On the antisemitism “scandal” in Labour and Momentum it has become clear to many activists that there is a problem that needs addressing. Yet instead of admitting a problem and tackling it, those with antisemitic ideas have been treated with an air of embarrassment — like your racist old uncle that you’d rather didn’t talk in public and you try and pretend you’re not related to. But those tactics won’t work and do not tackle the political root in the long run.
After the Channel 4 Dispatches “exposé” Momentum released a statement, quoted on the programme, that “Trotskyists are not running the show”. While true in a way (if only our ideas were more popular!) it was the wrong way to respond. Jill Mountford, openly a Trotskyist, is on Momentum’s steering committee. It is uncomradely when you are being attacked to throw other people under the bus to try to save yourself. Those film-makers were never going to turn around and say “our mistake, we thought you were all Trotskyists, we stand corrected and commend you all as decent people now”. Better to be honest and open, but also give nothing to the witchhunt. Yes some Momentum activists are Trotskyists, we don’t all agree on all issues, but that it is okay.
The left needs to stop worrying about how the press will take things, and start being confident and honest about our politics.