Apparently we’re witnessing yet another ‘battle for the soul of the Labour Party’. News broke this week that the pro-Jeremy Corbyn Momentum group is plotting to team up with Unite and seize control of the party machinery. Jon Lansman – one of the founders of Momentum, set up in the wake of Corbyn’s leadership victory – was caught on tape telling a meeting of activists in Richmond that, should the pro-Corbyn general secretary Len McCluskey be re-elected in the upcoming election, Unite would affiliate with Momentum and coordinate to take over key positions in the Labour Party. For anti-Corbyn plotters in the PLP, it was manna from heaven.
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson seized upon the tape as evidence of the far-left ‘entryism’ that he claims has dogged Corbyn’s leadership. McCluskey denied the claim, accusing Watson of carrying on like he was in ‘a low-budget remake of The Godfather’. Momentum has said Lansman was ‘speaking in an aspirational manner’. But this hasn’t killed the ham drama. Watson and Lansman have been going at it on social media, as one commentator put it, in the mode of ‘battling superheroes’. ‘You’ve revealed your plan. If you succeed you will destroy the Labour Party as an electoral force. So you have to be stopped’, tweeted Watson, reaching for his utility belt.
When it seemed that Corbyn’s team was briefing against Watson, the matter blew up at a PLP meeting this week, at which Watson was greeted by a round of applause. According to the Huffington Post’s Paul Waugh, Corbyn ‘stared stonily into the distance’ as accusations flew that – just like in the 1980s when far-left activists seized control of certain Labour Party branches – Momentum was operating as a ‘party within a party’. One Labour grandee was asked if the party was reliving the Bad Old Days of Militant. ‘No, no – it is much, much worse than that’, he said. The meeting ended in a din of shouting.
Though the spittle-flecked claims of a Communist subversion make for dramatic headlines, they give the so-called entryists too much credit. Peter Kilfoyle, Labour’s old enforcer in the battle against Militant, told the Guardian he sees no comparison between the ‘tightly organised, highly motivated’ Militant and Momentum. Momentum is more like the Labour left’s response to the Blairite pressure group Progress, he says. Indeed, Momentum is staffed by defeat-hardened Bennites like Lansman – who was Tony Benn’s Eighties fixer – and fresh-faced anti-austerity types like Adam Klug and Emma Rees: two primary-school teachers turned activists. The group’s platform, such as it has one, is a check-list of luvvie-lefty soundbites: it’s anti-Trident and pro-nationalisation, for ‘equality and participatory democracy’, and against the ‘scapegoating of migrants’. Hardly ‘all power to the Soviets’.