Comprehensive Analysis of Momentum By Hamza Ali Shah
The grassroots campaigning group Momentum has risen in prominence in recent years. Their increasing levels of membership have directly contributed to an upsurge of Labour support and a reengagement of electoral politics for many. However, it must be noted, much of the support is directed at Corbyn and his leftist agenda, which include policies and views which represent a change from the usual establishment beliefs and a future that benefits many, not just the usual few. Hence, acting as the link between the Labour party and the ordinary person, Momentum have utilised various forms of activist strategies in order to reach out to the wider population and generate support. Labour’s unexpected, yet prodigious advance, which was a considerable victory to Corbyn leadership in the 2017 General Election, illustrated the extent of Corbyn’s support and concurrently Momentums influence and the two have simultaneously gone from strength to strength in the subsequent period.
Who are Momentum?
The eye-catching promise of scrapping tuition fees for university students and the pledge to reintroduce their maintenance grants in Labour’s manifesto, policies that very much appeal to the younger generation kindled an interest for a group of people who in comparison to other European countries, are deemed to be disinterested in politics. Yet the aforementioned policies, alongside the ending of zero hour contracts and unpaid internships, a rise in the minimum wage, and a pledge to build more than one million homes pitched in the mind of young people and their surge of votes, labelled the ‘youthquake’, contributed to a remarkable performance for both Corbyn, and youth voting in the 2017 General Election.
This was made feasible by Momentum, a network of people and organisations committed to creating a mass movement for ‘real transformative change’ (Mcnulty-Bakas, 2016). The Labour focused organisation, launched as the successor to Jeremy Corbyn’s successful Labour leadership campaign has a broad set of objectives including redistribution and class initiatives, opposition to privatisation, worker support, action on climate change and an end to discrimination – ideas that are of the same ilk as Corbyn’s.
Momentum describe themselves as a people-powered, vibrant movement, with an intention to transform the Labour Party, communities and Britain in the interests of the many, not the few. Their energies are focused on campaigning with the Labour Party in order to promote and exact the transformative change they seek whilst driving a social movement similar to other community-based political groups witnessed in Europe.
Following Corbyn’s appointment as leader, Labour have gained 300,000 new members, and Momentum have 40,000 members, and at least 200,000 supporters of the cause.
Why were Momentum formed?
In the 2015 UK General Election, the Labour party, under the guidance of Ed Miliband, lost their fourth consecutive election, something unprecedented since the 1950’s. Labour held just 232 seats, down from 258 in 2010, which also happened to be the lowest for the party since 1983 (Kirk, 2015).
The unsatisfactory performance was embellished in their display in Scotland, traditionally a Labour stronghold, where the party faced total wipe out – with the SNP winning 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. At the same time, failure to gain seats from the Conservatives in England and Wales added salt to the wounds.
Following a statement and an apology from Ed Miliband, in which he maintained he is ‘deeply sorry’ for the result, he resigned as Labour leader. Thus, there was a need for fresh ideas and changes at the helm of the party.
What followed was a Labour leadership contest, in which Jeremy Corbyn was elected, in light of a landslide victory that saw him fend off rivals Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, and even dwarfed the 1994 mandate by Blair (Swinford, 2015). In fact, the leadership contest triggered 120,000 new people to sign up as supporters of the Labour Party, 84% of which voted for Corbyn (Wilson, 2016).
Corbyn’s election signalled the end to the traditional closed bureaucratic decision making structures and the outset of a mobilised movement that engaged all types of members. His election paved the way for a reinvigoration of the left in British politics (Rye, 2015). Corbyn’s rise represented a realignment of sorts that brings the broader left back into the political and Parliamentary mainstream by providing it with a legitimate voice within a mainstream political party (Rye, 2015), at a time when the there was a right wing tide surging across Europe.
This appears to be made up of two elements: those on the left in the Labour Party and those on the broader democratic left outside it. The former – many of whom are the most active, engaged and loyal members who regularly attend meetings and are out on the doorstep making the party’s case – have become revived and less willing to moderate their views in the electoral interests of the party, as they had been during the New Labour era. The latter, including former members and activists who had given up hope that it would ever provide a home for them again, especially after the Iraq War – which Corbyn staunchly opposed- became increasingly enthused that they might actually have some kind of voice in political debate and thus re-joined, or signed up as Affiliated or Registered Supporters in order to vote for Corbyn.
Apace with the aforementioned categories are those who it appears, may never have voted Labour before but who were willing to engage in a party they felt to be more clearly distinguished from the Conservatives and more robust in its opposition to austerity (Pickard, 2017).
In essence, what suddenly transpired was the prospect of a socialist Britain and the opportunity to both produce new ideas and galvanise enthusiasm and engagement amongst activists of all stripes in the Labour movement. Thus, following a perceived crisis, what emerged was a feeling of progressive change in the Labour party with Corbyn at the reins, which Momentum endorsed, and sought to maintain.
Momentum have played a monumental part in increasing the popularity of Corbyn and the Labour Party, by engaging with the public and delivering high turnouts in elections. Their chief strategies are built on three intertwined factors: mass mobilisations, grassroots support, and digital technologies.
Mass mobilisation is achieved by generating support across the country by virtue of ground activism, practical help and assistance and community projects. Momentum have developed ‘My Nearest Marginal’, a software that allows anyone, regardless of them being Momentum or Labour Party members, to input their post code, find their nearest marginal seat – a constituency held by an MP with a small majority – and connect with other members to travel and ensure they have enough activists fighting for a Labour victory to these areas.
This method was used in abundance throughout the local and general elections. In fact, more than 100,000 people used My Nearest Marginal during the General Election campaign, over four times the size of Momentum’s membership. This was one among many factors which allowed Labour to stack up votes in marginal constituencies, which pundits had assumed Labour would lose, as well as retaking seats lost by Labour in 2015 (Peggs, 2017). For example, seats such as Gower saw a swing of 12.9% toward Labour; meanwhile Derby North witnessed an 11.9% swing in Labour’s favour. Likewise, they held nearly fifty sessions in constituencies such as Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Crewe and Nantwich, Sheffield Hallam and Croydon Central – all of which were gains for Labour, often with extraordinary surges in the Labour vote (Peggs, 2017)
Crucial to their campaigning success during the election was the introduction of campaigners from across the Atlantic, who were part of Bernie Sanders team for the US election. The American activists’ experience is crucial because they contributed to driving Sanders from a position of rank outsider to serious candidate for the Democrats. Importantly, it was a strikingly similar case because in that instance people were voting for the man, and not the party, because once Sanders dropped out, those same voters did not vote for Clinton and the Democrats.
Hence, these American activists held training sessions for Momentum members and supporters in door knocking and other forms of campaigning, and have helped Momentum set up peer-to-peer texting, which was used by Sanders activists to help supporter’s text each other about nearby events and canvasses (Chakelian, 2017).
Not only does this demonstrate Momentum’s international outreach, but it also illustrates their forward thinking approach by adding a new dynamic to an already energised and innovative campaigning strategy.
Aside from campaigning, Momentum off-line events include different scale community-centred activities, like group discussions, debates, seminars, pop-up political meetings, public meetings and policy consultations taking place in various settings. There are also more informal Momentum social events, such as pub quizzes, music concerts, meals, picnics and sporting fixtures, which all contribute to creating a community spirit among grass root activists.
Notwithstanding, digital activism is also central. Momentum’s digital presence has proven a profound way of generating support for Labour. In fact, digital strategists have concluded that the Labour party’s employment of social media surpasses that of the Conservatives, and much of that is down to Momentum (Booth & Hern, 2017). There are several reasons for this. For example, Momentum’s digital consultants use Google to analyse what people have searched for in order to inform the organisation’s social media content.
They assert that “Google advertising tools will let you see who’s searched for certain things and how that search has changed day to day, so you can see things like how much interest there is in Jeremy Corbyn over time – people were more interested in him in 2015 than they were in the election – and you can build up big lists of related words to get a sense of an area and find what people were concerned about” (Hughes, 2017).
An example is the Digital Hub that Momentum have in the heart of London. Several designers, analysts, developers, consultants and engineers, most of whom are under the age of 30, volunteer on the weekends and brainstorm ideas to contribute to the cause.
This then allows them to use social media to address those concerns, reassure, promote the Labour party, and concurrently magnify their support.
Accordingly, the social media element is pivotal to digital activism, and during the general election, they reaped the rewards. The impact of social media in key areas Labour needed to win was extensive, including Cardiff, Derby, Sheffield, Canterbury and Plymouth. In the final week alone, 42.2% of Facebook users in Canterbury viewed their videos, while in Sheffield Hallam the percentage was 55.9%.
Appropriately, in the last week of the election, Momentum’s Facebook videos reached over 23million views and were watched by 12.7million users. Their most viral video, achieved 5.4million views in just 48 hours, while a clip of Theresa May refusing to debate with Jeremy Corbyn garnered 4.3million views within just three days.
In fact, it was the sheer focus on Corbyn on digital platforms, by building and motivating his voter base that observers assert played a momentous part in incrementing Corbyn’s support in the 2017 general election and the subsequent period. Accordingly, Labour’s social media presence was described as ‘very polished’ (Booth & Hern, 2017).
Indeed, researching about the concerns related to the Labour Party has proved an effective strategy, and one of the fundamental reasons as to why by virtue of Momentum, Corbyn has generated substantial support from the younger generation.
Much of the attraction of Momentum for young people resides in its horizontal, social movement network way of doing politics, as opposed to the rigid, hierarchical, traditional political party structure. The appeal of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party since his appointment among many young people is largely attributable to the leader being viewed as an authentic and ideological politician with a positive and hopeful message, as well as youth-friendly policies, as opposed to Conservative Party (Pickard, 2017).
Exceedingly, young people are now at the heart of Momentum, not just in terms of support and membership, but actively playing an indispensable role in informing, participating, and organising Momentum’s digital and physical events, as opposed to being passive consumers.
Therefore, Momentum’s strategy in making politics appeal to the younger people again, as opposed to the side-lining they are used to, has proved effective in enhancing Momentum as a movement, as well as augmenting Corbyn’s support, as displayed in the latest general election.
This was accentuated post-election, because one of the dominant narratives about the 2017 result is that young people turned out in a considerably higher proportion than previously, and that they voted overwhelmingly for the Labour Party. In fact, they turned out in greater numbers than at any other point in the last 25 years (Burn-Murdoch, 2017) , and observers stipulate that Momentum’s role in that was compelling.
Consequently, for Momentum sympathisers, the network generates a feeling of belonging to a constructive, energetic and positive political community that offers a vision and potential for change. For young people, the post-Cold war capitalist order has failed them, and they have lost faith in politics. However, Corbyn’s stance on inequality and his desire to reverse it by virtue of anti-austerity and anti-privatisation policies reaches out to the younger generation with semantics that appeal to them. In the process, Momentum are the link between the two, and their methods, such as the active and interactive use of digital technologies – that comes naturally to many young people – is another part of the appeal and an effective method for both diffusing information and mobilising support (Pickard, 2017).
Thus, the aforementioned methods are pertinent examples of Momentum’s attempt to advance the Corbyn driven ideology across the Labour Party and make them a left wing force in British politics. In fact, Momentum founder Jon Lansman, who has previously expressed his desire to transform society into a different type, one with government policies that are of benefit to people, not for profit, recently won a new post on the National Executive Committee (NEC), Labour’s governing body that oversees the general direction of the party. He stated he would use the position to bring about sweeping changes to the party, which include strengthening Corbyn’s support base, making changes to the campaigning strategy and potentially altering the method of MP’s selection (Elgot, et al., 2018) .
Hence, Momentum’s influence is being extended to more than just refining of mind-sets, engaging the population and generating support for Corbyn, as there is now added insurgency in an attempt to transform Labour into a party that strictly follows the principles of Corbyn, and truly serves the many, not the few.
Since Corbyn’s landslide victory in the leadership contest, the Labour party appears to be undergoing transformative change. For the first time in a long time, there is a man at the helm of the party with a vision that engages and includes members from all aspects of society. Corbyn’s intention to reignite municipal socialism and the policies it entails has triggered a wave of support from sections of society who were otherwise disinterested. As a result, his popularity and support has flourished, and Momentum has been central to that. Momentum have set up a network with an innovative and energetic dynamic, which utilises activism of all sorts, encourages participation and concurrently mobilises support. Hence, the increasing support the left has received in British politics because of Corbyn raises the prospect of reintroducing elements of socialism, and eradicating policies that have otherwise been detrimental, such as privatisation. Corbyn appears to have an army behind him eager to witness change, and Momentum are ensuring that army expands.
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