Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

Momentum isn’t hard left. It’s a theatrical cult

The 21st century is full of showmen like Corbyn, passing off old tricks as original thinking

Hard left, my arse. Sorry to be vulgar, but surely that’s how Jim Royle, couch-potato patriarch of that glorious sitcom The Royle Family, would have reacted to reports that the ‘hard left’ Momentum movement is planning a ‘massacre of the moderates’ in the parliamentary Labour party.

Don’t get me wrong. Having seized control of Labour’s National Executive Committee, Momentum is itching to purge the party’s benches of MPs who are insufficiently obsequious to Jeremy Corbyn. But calling this fragile political sect ‘hard’ left is silly. ‘Far’ left, perhaps — but let’s not confuse Momentum activists with the powerful Marxist bruisers of 40 years ago.

Momentum is more like a cult specialising in political theatre, or what I call the politics of dopamine. It’s not about ideology; it’s about drama and feeling. Its admirers and most prominent voices include a suspicious number of actors. There’s Paul Mason, for example, who rose to fame playing a ‘politically impartial’ BBC economics editor on Newsnight. Also Ricky Tomlinson, who put in an altogether more convincing performance as Jim Royle.

Jim was presumably Old rather than New Labour, judging by his references to ‘sausage jockeys’, though he was too busy farting in front of afternoon game shows to keep tabs on the NEC. Tomlinson, by contrast, is naturally given to ideological excess, having started in the National Front and ended in the Socialist Labour Party. He backed Corbyn in 2015, in a letter also signed by Brian Eno and Jeremy Hardy. He’s a generous soul — how many other actors have given a million quid of their own money to a children’s hospital? — but also a lifelong exhibitionist.

No wonder Momentum loves him and asks him to headline its events: like most of today’s sectarian movements, it prioritises entertainment over ideology.

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