Momentum rightly reacted to the global George Floyd protests with support. They released a video “Spot The Difference”, outlining racism in the British criminal justice system.
Nothing in their reaction has acknowledged the failures of the Labour left on policing since 2017. Under the left’s leadership Labour adopted a generally “pro-police” line, including vocal campaigns to increase police numbers.
In 2017 Labour’s manifesto promised 10,000 more police officers and 500 more border guards. In 2019 the party promised to top the Tories’ police recruitment by 2,000.
In the intervening two years more police was a major campaigning demand for Labour; sometimes it seemed like its only campaigning demand. In 2019 there was a day of action against police cuts.
Many left-wing policies included in the 2019 manifesto were never even mentioned before then, let alone campaigned for. Tellingly, for instance, the party never demanded the restoration of all the funding councils have lost since 2010 — until it appeared in the 2019 manifesto.
More police — but not reversing the council cuts which have devastated our communities!
Under left-wing shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon, Labour rightly criticised prison privatisation but said nothing about the crucial issue of reducing the prison population, let alone anything more radical. Nor did it discuss ending the disastrous reality of most drugs being criminalised.
In the face of a pro-police stance from our left-wing leadership, much of the left went quiet. Some endorsed the “more police” line most notably Momentum, who repeated promoted the demand and produced a video bracketing the police with firefighters and health workers and describing them as “heroes”. In 2017 Momentum promoted the Tory Police Cuts Calculator criticising Tories for defunding the police. In 2019 Momentum released the “You Are A Socialist” video, giving the police force as an example of socialism in action!
There is nothing wrong with changing your mind or an organisation changing its position. Hopefully the current movement will educate people on the role of the state apparatus and the police in repression of working-class struggle and oppression of minorities. But Momentum must be honest about its positions. Labour and Momentum activists should take part in and cheer on anti-police demonstrations without fighting for our party to adopt an adequate stance on crime and policing.
There will be different views on the left about how comprehensively we want to see the police force as it exists transformed and/or abolished or replaced. But central to the debate needs to be the idea, at the moment largely absent from the official labour movement, that the police as they exist are fundamentally one of the problems confronting working-class people (particularly black, brown and migrant working-class people), not part of the solution.
The labour movement needs to drop the “more police” line, advocate serious measures to rein in police repression, violence and bigotry, and argue to radically transform society and curb the powers and role of the police. Socialists in the labour movement must urgently engage with the anti-police movement now burgeoning, to launch a serious debate about the demands we need.
• Full article on the Momentum Internationalists blog here