After the the outing of Gerry Downing as a useful idiot for our party's enemies, the race is on to find more specimens of the outrageous, the unhinged, and the anti-semitic. None of it has to do with the disinterested pursuit of a story, of course, and everything to do with inculcating guilt-by-association in the minds of the public, and is why Labour should not make a comfortable home for people of this ilk.
The latest attempt to stoke a panic about far left idiocy was driven into the back woods last night by the unlamented departure of Iain Duncan Smith. What is the story I speak of? This one. Scooping on it yesterday, The Times reported that Momentum in Lambeth were planning to picket a fundraiser for a local councillor running for the assembly in this May's GLA elections. What is that there Momentum like, eh?
Obviously, I wouldn't be writing if all I was going to add was further incredulity. There is a little more than meets the eye to this matter. Firstly, as with all things there's a political context that has been swept under the carpet. As the most seasoned Momentum watchers will note, its branches aren't in the habit of picketing Labour Party representatives. Saying idiotic things to them on Twitter, yes. Standing outside with banners and asking people to respect your picket line, no. What's going on then? It turns out that the picket was an item in any other business brought to the meeting's attention by one Stuart King. Stuart isn't a Labour Party member, but holds the treasurer's position in Lambeth Momentum. And he was raising it, apparently, on behalf of the local anti-cuts campaign against the closure and reconfiguration of services by Labour-run Lambeth Council. It has attracted some celebrity support and library workers have walked out twice over the proposed cuts. Florence Eshalomi in her capacity as a Lambeth councillor previously headed up the authority's Cooperative Libraries Commission, which was meant to save the borough's libraries. Hence rather than just being another councillor abiding by the group whip, it is reasonable to assume that the cuts and reconfiguration going through are associated with plans she had previously put her name to. As such, it is entirely reasonable that an anti-cuts group might want to protest outside a semi-public political event being put on for Florence's benefit.
A case of the party establishment decrying a perfectly legitimate attempt to hold a local politician to account for her voting record? There's a little bit more of a stroll down the rabbit hole to go. Stuart King, of course, isn't a name unknown to far left circles in London. He is a contributor to Red Flag, the self-styled "voice of Labour's revolutionary change." Looking at some of the by-lines in this earnest and august publication, we have household names - in lefty trainspotter homes at least - like Dave Stockton, Jeremy Dewar, and Bernie McAdam. In other words, it's the organisation-formerly-known-as-Workers-Power.
Workers Power were an orthodox Trotskyist split from the International Socialists in the mid-70s, and subsequently evolved away from the "innovations" Tony Cliff brought to his brand of Trotskyism in favour of the screed laid down by the Old Man himself. As a "fighting propaganda group" whose membership never got far beyond 50 activists in Britain, it managed to build itself its own petty international organisation and ... that was about it. There was little to mark WP out in the sect marketplace. The Sparts and International Bolshevik Tendency had the minuscule head-banging market wrapped up, the SWP was the home of mindless activism, and the Socialist Party were effectively the refuge for Labourism-in-exile. The only feathers WP had to its bow was a pitch slightly to the left of the larger organisations whom they regarded as "centrist" (opportunistically caught between the poles of reform and revolution), and a tendency to turn up to meetings and propose ranty, ultra-left motions and actions. You can take the, um, organisation out of the organisation ("we're only a newspaper, guv"), but Stuart's attempt to get his local Momentum branch to go to war against a local councillor shows all the finesse that kept WP on the margins of British sect life is still with its successor groupuscule.
So let's be clear about this. It is not Momentum who are campaigning against a putative London Assembly member and sitting councillor, but a cranky Trotskyist group as part of an anti-cuts campaign they've latched onto. Obviously, it is a very difficult political situation when groups of workers and a Labour-run local authority are in dispute, but resolving that situation within and between different wings of the labour movement requires tact and talking, none of which is aided by a pointless Trot outfit trying to flog a newspaper or two off the back of it. Unfortunately, for as long as non-members of the Labour Party can hold office in Momentum this kind of nonsense will keep happening. If Trotskyists want to picket councillors and sell their unreadble guff outside meetings, that's a matter for them. But allowing any adherent of a Trot group a directing role could choke the positive potential Momentum has - and present opportunities to those who'd like to see it strangled.